Body cams shed light on hardships faced by police
Body cameras have become an increasingly popular tool for law enforcement across the country
By Desiree Stennett
Police work is rarely pretty.
But the worst of it — including shootings — is generally never seen by the public.
That's been changing in recent years as new gadgets — personal body cameras — have become an increasingly popular tool for law-enforcement agencies across the country, including a handful in Central Florida.
The technology was highlighted this week after the Daytona Beach Police Department released graphic body-cam video from September showing officers shooting and wounding former New York Giants player Jermaine Green inside a home as he threatened a woman at knifepoint.
Daytona Beach is one of roughly 600 law-enforcement agencies nationwide that have purchased body cams in the past two years from the country's leading manufacturer of such devices for police, stun-gun maker Taser International.
Business is expected to grow as technology improves, costs drop and industry acceptance grows.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police recently published a position paper endorsing body cams, which have also been used by Lake Mary and University of Central Florida police departments.
Daytona Beach's police chief, Mike Chitwood, echoed many of the finding in the paper, saying this kind of video has the potential to revolutionize police work, hold officers accountable for their actions and increase community trust in his agency.
"The community gets to see exactly what the cops did," Chitwood said Thursday. "It's transparent. It catches the good, the bad and the ugly."
Rare glimpses into police work
Taser International's cam, called AXON flex, and other similar devices are more expensive than low-quality cameras you can buy at Target and other stores.
But they are also more durable and have other features designed to help capture rare glimpses in the world of police officers.
A Lake Mary patrol officer's lapel camera, for example, captured video in September of acquitted Sanford murder suspect George Zimmerman after he was pulled over and ticketed for driving 60 mph in a 45-mph zone.
UCF released body-camera video of police searching a campus apartment of a student who plotted a mass shooting but killed himself on March 18.
Video made public in September shows a UCF officer shattering the car window of a combative student during a traffic stop on campus.
Daytona Beach police started looking at cameras in 2012 and became one of the first agencies in Central Florida to use the technology earlier this year.
Orange County deputies are evaluating the cams.
The Orlando Police Department is interested in buying cameras at a price it can afford.
But Volusia County has already crunched the numbers and the money just isn't the budget.
Chitwood said his city bought 50 cameras for about $800 each.
But storage of massive amounts of video data is causing cost concerns.
Chitwood said about $300,000 annually pays for storage — and running out of space is still a concern.
Taser International has since lowered the price for the equipment — now each is $499 — and it is also offering lower-cost storage options.
Agencies that signed on early will get credits toward more storage or cameras, company spokesman Steve Tuttle said.
Although the cameras are generally supported in criminal-justice circles, the technology has its drawbacks.
When cameras are attached to the body several inches below an officer's eye level, it can only see what's directly in front of the officer's chest.
They don't mimic human head and eye movements.
"Even though people generally say videos don't lie, sometimes a point of perspective that a camera has can be different from what the officers see," said Ross Wolf, the associate dean of academic affairs and technology in UCF's College of Health and Public Affairs.
'The video is unbiased'
Daytona's police chief says the cameras prove that most officers are following the law.
In the video Daytona Beach released Wednesday, officers are captured as they kick in the front door to force their way into the home on Magnolia Avenue in Daytona Beach.
As three officers entered, Green ran into a bedroom and pulled his victim on top of him as he held a knife to her chest.
After police repeatedly told Green to let the woman go, Green shoved the knife down in an attempt to stab her. That's when two officers opened fire.
Green was shot several times, and the woman was struck once in the right arm. They both survived.
"I think they followed policy and the law," said Chitwood. "I was very proud of everything they did."
Danny Banks, the special agent in charge for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Orlando region, said this kind of video is valuable when it comes to investigating the behavior of officers.
FDLE investigators review more than 20 shootings involving law-enforcement officers in Central Florida region every year, Banks said.
In each case, agents interview officers and witnesses in an attempt to recreate the scene and determine if the shooting was justified.
"The video is unbiased," Banks said. "It's the closest that we have right now to actually giving us the perspective that the officer was seeing."
Copyright 2013 The Orlando Sentinel