By Philip Haldiman
Three years into the Peoria Police Department’s use of body camera’s, city officials say the program is a success.
Body cameras are intended to assist officers in the performance of their duties by creating a visual and audio record of certain activities. They provide documentary evidence for criminal investigations, civil litigation, allegations of officer misconduct and other uses.
Spokesman Brandon Sheffert said the Peoria Policed Department launched their program in 2016 and it has been effective in providing an enhanced level of transparency and better service.
The use of body cameras in the Peoria Police Department has been a positive addition and have served the intended purpose, he said.
“The body cameras have worked as expected — We have had several incidents where the footage has captured interactions between officers and citizens, some of which have been use of force related. The video footage isn’t the end-all-be-all because it does not capture everything, but it does give us a better perspective of what went on at that moment,” he said. “We have also had many instances where complaints have been made against officers for various things and those have been found to not be true based on the officer having an activated body worn camera.”
Officers are required to activate the system, as soon as practical given the circumstances, for all interactions with the public or any law enforcement efforts that may result in the recovery of evidence, including vehicle and pedestrian stops, radio calls for service, events requiring enforcement, transportation of prisoners, suspect and witness statements and interviews, vehicle and foot pursuits, as well as emergency vehicle response, or anytime an officer feels it is appropriate to record.
The technology was initially launched as a pilot program January 2015 when the department purchased 54 body cameras. In July of 2016, the department announced an official launch of the program to fully outfit all patrol officers with body cameras.
Today there are 179 body worn cameras with a $749 one-time cost and $1,471 annual cost.
Mr. Sheffert said the decision for body cameras was not based on a single incident or incidents in general.
They accomplish a number of things — ranging from capturing interactions between officers and citizens while on patrol to eliminating disputes, he said.
“The cameras are designed to provide an additional layer of accountability for our members and also will offer a degree of additional safety for them as they patrol,” Mr. Sheffert said.
The use of body cameras is becoming more prevalent throughout the country — Nearly half of state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States had acquired body-worn cameras by 2016, according to statistics released in 2018 by the Bureau of Justice.
Michael D. White, a criminology professor and associate director of the ASU Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, said two big reasons departments deploy body cameras are to provide accountability to reduce the use of force or to change citizen perception.
Mr. White said 11 of 19 studies have documented substantial or statistically significant declines in use of force following body camera deployment.
Additionally, 20 of 26 studies have documented substantial or statistically significant declines in complaints following body camera deployment, he said.
“The research is pretty persuasive,” Mr. White said.
Mr. White was the lead researcher on a study released in 2018 that explored the integration and acceptance of body-worn cameras in Tempe, which implemented their program in 2015. The study used officer surveys pre- and post-deployment, interviews with citizens who had recent police encounters, and interviews with external stakeholders.
Researchers analyzed officer self-initiated contacts, misdemeanor court case time to disposition, and case outcomes and found high levels of body camera acceptance across all groups.
Mr. White said officer proactivity remained consistent, as well as time-to-case disposition and the rate of guilty outcomes both trended in positive directions.
“I always ask police departments — figure out why do you want to do this, and include all stakeholders. Then we can get the ball rolling, whether it is full deployment or just some officers,” he said.
Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697 or firstname.lastname@example.org.