A tale of two BWC initiatives: Leaders tell their stories

Two law enforcement leaders who have gone through the process of implementing a BWC program share what they learned

This feature is part of our 2016 Guide to Body-Worn Cameras, a supplement that brings a sharpened focus to some of the most challenging issues related to the use of body-worn cameras and digital video evidence. To read all of the articles included in the guide, click here.

Agencies across the country are implementing — or at least contemplating — body-worn camera initiatives. Some agencies are further along in the process than others, so we asked police leaders at two different size agencies — one relatively large, the other small by comparison — about their experiences with body-camera deployment so far. We engaged two law enforcement leaders who have gone through the process with the hope that agencies following in their footsteps can benefit from what they learned along the way.

Meet the Agencies

The Fresno (Calif.) Police Department is authorized for 732 sworn and 275 civilian members. Fresno’s 515,000-person population makes it the fifth largest city in the state of California, and spans 110 square miles. The city is a unique mixture of more than 80 different nationalities, creating rich cultural diversity tempered with unique policing challenges.

Agencies across the country are implementing — or at least contemplating — body-worn camera initiatives.
Agencies across the country are implementing — or at least contemplating — body-worn camera initiatives. (Photo/iStock)

The Hayward (Calif.) Police Department has 197 total sworn. The agency currently has 101 uniformed officers in patrol, including lieutenants and sergeants. According to the California Department of Finance, the population of Hayward is 147,113 residents consisting of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds living in the city’s 62.5 square miles. Some citizens of Hayward live in high-density, low-income apartments while others live in million-dollar homes.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Hayward Lieutenant Eric Krimm spoke on behalf of their departments about their experiences implementing a body-worn camera program.

Q: What has the overall impact on policing in your municipality been since deploying BWCs? How long since implementation?

Chief Jerry Dyer: The Fresno Police Department tested various camera systems and conducted a pilot program for almost 18 months to evaluate and prepare for operation prior to implementing a department-wide program. Actual implementation began in late January, 2015. To date, there are over 200 cameras deployed in the field, with a goal of 400 cameras distributed by early February, 2016.

Impacts to the agency include the financial cost of the equipment and video storage, increased bandwidth at the district stations to upload video data, and staff dedicated to the project. Currently one sergeant and one officer oversee the program, which includes training. The cost of the equipment and storage are spread out over five years with 20 percent coming from private funding, 40 percent general funding and 40 percent from a grant.

Another impact is the additional time officers must spend in the field and office reviewing, tagging and uploading video evidence. As officers become more familiar with the system, we hope to minimize this time. There is also a requirement for extra time for detectives to review and include videos with case filings for the DA’s office. In time, we will to transition to a version of electronic filing which will help shorten the amount of time needed.

Initially, our police association had reservations about a body camera program. Their concerns were minimized after being invited to assist in the development of policy related to body worn cameras. Today, many naysayers have turned into body camera supporters, with several officers expressing gratitude over being quickly cleared of a complaint after bringing forth video evidence.

Lieutenant Eric Krimm: We implemented full deployment the first week of October 2015, so I don’t really have a feel yet for what the impact will be. During a recent community meeting where I taught police use-of-force, the attendees seemed to be happy that we were deploying BWCs to all of our uniformed personnel. My belief is that the community has an existing high level of trust of our organization, and this only helps to maintain and improve what we already have established.

Q: What was the one thing you did in the process that you would do differently if you were given a chance to do it over?

Chief Dyer: We tested all docking stations under a medium load before going live. When we went live with the entire system, the docking stations crashed. Fortunately, we had a team of officers and IT support staff standing by in the event of a glitch. They were able to spend the night troubleshooting the issue and quickly correct the problem.

In retrospect, had we tested under a full load instead of a partial load, we would have located the IT anomaly sooner and eliminated the problem before it happened. It is important that agencies minimize problems, particularly when the program is new, to eliminate reasons to not support the change.

Also, officers were initially provided camera mounts that required the officer to wear the camera on their lapel which often times does not allow for the best video. We have since ordered eye glasses for the cameras to be mounted on as that seems to provide the best video and the most accurate perspective of the officer.

Lieutenant Krimm: We could have communicated better with adjacent agencies to compare policy related to usage to better knowwhat each agency policy was in regard to recording an incident or investigation during combined agency operations.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you during the process? For example, did you get unexpected resistance from your officers?

Chief Dyer: There were a lot of questions raised at the onset by the leadership of the Police Officers Association, which was a good thing as it did require us to address these concerns, slow down the implementation, and ensure they were involved in every aspect of the process to include writing a significant portion of the policy. The leadership also suggested we implement with volunteers first which allowed for gradual buy-in from officers.

The biggest surprise the training team has shared with me is how quickly the officers have become reliant on the camera as a virtual backup. The team has trained many officers who were initially reluctant to wear a camera. The officers would make comments such as, “I’m not sure about this thing,” and a few weeks later the same officer would contact the team saying, “I love this thing!”

Our officers are still in a learning curve, but the speed at which the officers are adapting to the technology continues to be a pleasant surprise.

Another area that was an initial surprise was the level of IT upgrade needed at each of our substations for the docking stations to be able to communicate and transfer data effectively without compromising other communications.

Lieutenant Krimm: We started with testing different devices and the officers were generally very positive regarding the benefits of having their own recording of an entire event, versus the last 30 seconds caught on a cell phone camera by a passerby. I was surprised that officers by and large seemed to embrace the use of BWC.

Q: Imagine a law enforcement leader is on the other end of the phone, asking for advice in setting up BWCs in a jurisdiction similar to yours; what do you tell them?

Chief Dyer: The public is recording your officers all the time. In this era of police mistrust and allegations that often prove to be false, this translates to edited versions of an incident being aired on social media that slants the contact or does not show a complete story. A body camera provides a point of view that is much closer to the officer’s perspective, and gives the agency an unedited version of the contact. Cameras are not perfect, but they are definitely a helpful tool.

It is important to identify a funding source in advance and allow for adequate time to implement. I recommend extensive evaluation of various BWC systems, research best practices and policies prior to implementation. Prior to the roll out, fully explain the system to the community, elected officials, the District Attorney and your officers. Partners in policy development should include such groups as the city attorney, local district attorney, Police Association, staff members, and end users.

Be prepared for unexpected things such as the DA’s office possibly needing transcriptions of videos before trial, and determine ahead of time where that responsibility will reside. Agencies should ensure policy includes information about when cameras should be activated, and plan for the extra time detectives will need to review video related to a case. Lastly, make sure you are well aware of state law that governs retention time and gain an opinion from your city attorney under what circumstance if any, should video be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Most importantly, do not feel the pressure to implement a bodyworn camera program unless there is a need in your respective community, and if you do implement, make sure you set a realistic timeline.

Lieutenant Krimm: We started with a test group of officers to test and evaluate several different BWC devices. These officers were selected based on tenure, experience, and willingness to participate. They were given the opportunity to influence the choice of device they would have to use, and were able to influence policy based on their feedback. Using the feedback, we chose a device, and then deployed it in special units to further test and evaluate to ensure the policy, deployment, and usage would be deployed to all smoothly.

This process was beneficial in ensuring we worked the “bugs” out of the new device before having everyone struggle with it.

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