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Body-worn cameras help protect police, citizens
Devices help add evidence in investigations
Martinsville Police officer C.B. Bell shows a body-worn camera mounted on his uniform vest. The cameras have been in use for roughly six months. The department has about 30 cameras, enough for every uniformed patrol officer in the department. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
The Martinsville Police Department’s body-worn video cameras protect police officers and citizens alike, according to Police Chief Mike Rogers.
The cameras, which attach to the shirts or neckties of officers, have been in use for roughly six months. The department has about 30 cameras, enough for every uniformed patrol officer in the department.
The cameras were given to the police department by the Virginia Municipal League, which was the city’s insurance provider at the time.
“Their (VML’s) incentive in bearing the cost was that it would offer protection for them against frivolous lawsuits in the future,” Rogers said.
The cameras had an opportunity to prove their value on March 19, when a city resident alleged that his wife was assaulted by two city police officers.
According to a Martinsville Police Department news release issued after the incident, when the video from the officers’ body-worn cameras was reviewed, the evidence “provide(d) clear and indisputable proof that both officers ... showed great concern for the well-being and safety” of the alleged victim.
The resident and his wife each were charged with a misdemeanor of filing a false police report.
“The video made me very proud of my police officers,” Rogers said.
The value of the cameras, he said, is that they help protect both citizens and police officers.
“My highest priority, as far as police service, is that our officers treat people in a courteous and professional manner,” he said. “When someone wants to claim that they were mistreated, I welcome the opportunity to review a tape and see exactly what happened.”
The cameras are Veho Muvi Micro camcorders, which record on 8GB memory cards, offering about six hours of video recording time. At the end of an officer’s shift, the footage is downloaded to a computer and the cameras are recharged.
According to Rogers, the cameras are not recording at all times. Officers turn them on in situations when there is concern that the situation may escalate or become heated.
In confrontational situations, officers often will tell the citizen that they are being recorded, Rogers added.
“Hopefully, that will make somebody calm down and not further assault the police officer,” he said.
While the body-worn cameras are a fairly recent addition to the Martinsville Police Department, in-car cameras have been used since 1996, the chief said.
In that time, there have been many occasions that have shown the value of having video evidence of a disputed incident.
In one example Rogers gave, a city resident’s vehicle collided with a police car at a stop light on Lester Street.
Both the police officer and the resident claimed they had the green light. However, the in-car video from the police car proved that only the officer’s light was green.
In another example, a man wrote Rogers a letter complaining that a city police officer was rude to his granddaughter when he stopped her vehicle.
“When I got his letter, we went back and we reviewed the traffic stop,” Rogers said. “What we saw was the officer being courteous and professional.”
In the video, however, the girl pleaded for sympathy from the officer, and said many unkind things about her grandfather and how much trouble he was going to cause her if she got a ticket.
Rogers showed the video to the grandfather, who apologized.
Rogers believes that in time, body-worn video cameras will become standard in all police departments, he said.
“There will always be those who have a doubt, or question the honesty of the officer, unless you have it on video,” he said. “Any other officer who has his integrity questioned in the future will be glad he’s got it.”