Fort Worth police leading the charge locally in usage of body cameras

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by MONIKA DIAZ / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on October 25, 2013 at 9:47 AM

FORT WORTH, Texas -- It's the future of policing; a tiny camera attached to an officer's collar or sunglasses, designed to record every move not captured on patrol dash-cam video.

In Rialto, California, body cameras are mandatory for 70 officers. According to the department, complaints against officers have dropped 80 percent. Use of force went down 67 percent.  The numbers are from a study conducted at the department when the cameras were first introduced.in February 2012.

In North Texas, law enforcement agencies are also deploying these high-tech cameras.

The Fort Worth Police Department leads the effort. It recently got a new shipment of body cameras -- 195 of them. 113 are already on the street, in use, recording encounters and confrontations between officers and citizens.

The voluntary program was launched last year. The video from the cameras is downloaded into a server. It cannot be edited or manipulated.

“This makes it so much easier to understand exactly from the officer's point of view, maybe a justification, a quick decision, or something that can't be explained in a police report or an interview, [that] when you see it on film, it can change your perspective of what was really going on at that date, at that time,” said Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead.

The Fort Worth Police Officer's Association (FWPOA) supports the body cams, because it believes it will help officers.

“It is a way for us to, one, record events when they happen, and also, a lot of times we have allegations made against us, and they are not always true,” said FWPOA President Stephen Hall.

But for Hall, the cameras also raise questions.

“I'm surprised we don't have a well-defined policy,” Hall said. “There is some policy, but there is not a well-defined policy on how the videos will be used, utilized, and reviewed.”

Without it, Hall believes officers will begin to distrust the technology.

"Then they become suspicious and become more reluctant to use it or rely on it,” he said.

Chief Halstead told News 8 a new version of the body cameras policy is on the way.

“I want that draft finalized by the end of the year,” he said.

He also mentioned that officers’ concerns are being addressed.

“Some of those concerns are what has to be taped and what should be taped, and my position is, the easier the policy is to understand, the more it will be adopted by our employees,” Halstead said. “No one is just going in and kind of like having a free reign of 'Let's see what officer Jones is doing tonight.' We don't do that and we will not allow that.”

Halstead wants the policy to be clear to his officers and the public. Citizens will be on camera, too. He plans to take the policy to community forums and organizations.

“I'm going to review it with a community advisory board that works closely with the chief's office and the police department,” he said.

Additional training for the officers is also part of the plan.

“You have to give them training on how to police on film, 'cause it's different,” Halstead said.

The chief also expects other revisions in the future as the technology changes, including the possibility of random audits.

“Are they being turned on during traffic stops?” he said. "Are they being turned on during critical interviews during the officer's shift? Those kind of audits."

For the chief, the goal is to build best practices that will increase professionalism. The body cameras can be effective in building trust and much more.

“This is going to change our profession,” he said. “But for the better.”

E-mail mdiaz@wfaa.com

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