Police Chief Edward Stephens, Wolcott PD, wanted a way to increase the physical and mental safety of his officers. In 2012, his department implemented a body-worn camera program, and the 16,000-person bedroom community for Waterbury and Bristol became one of the first to leverage Connecticut’s $15 million in government funding for the cameras. In the Wolcott PD video, officers describe how Safariland® VIEVU® body-worn cameras have protected them during high-risk activities out in the field.
INCREASING OFFICERS’ SAFETY
Over the past five years, Stephens has observed a reduction in physical assaults of officers when a suspect knows they are being filmed. In addition, the incidence of erroneous internal complaints has also gone down, minimizing the mental stress that officers experience.
Prior to the body-worn camera (BWC) program, there were situations in which an officer would be falsely accused of wrongdoing, and subsequently sued in court. In the process, his or her reputation and mental health would suffer. Since the Wolcott Police Department began capturing and storing body-worn camera evidence, there are fewer complaints which result in an officer testifying in court.
Now that the BWC program is in place, a complainant’s lawyer will typically request a copy of recorded evidence of an incident, review it, and frequently advise their client to plead guilty. “So not only does it save [the officers] mentally and physically, [it also saves] money through the time going to court and testifying where I would have to pay them,” said Stephens. “I’ve noticed there’s a big uptick in that. A lot less testifying.”
THE CHALLENGE AND THE SURPRISE
The one challenge Stephens experienced was some initial resistance from the department’s officers in wearing the body-worn cameras. “They were more worried about if they swore — I didn’t want them needlessly swearing — but sometimes you have to use what I call salty language. They were a little hesitant with that, but you know anything you’re doing you’re probably being videotaped anyway. You walk into a store there’s a video. You’re getting gas and there’s a video. And if you don’t think anything’s there and you’re arguing on the street, rest assured someone has their cell phone and they are videotaping you. So you know a lot of stuff is cut, or altered or edited whereas at least [the officer has] the true rendition right there. But once [the camera] helped one of the officers, all my officers were on board right away.”
When asked if there have been any surprises with body-worn cameras over the years, he responded that the only one he’s experienced is when people report a different version of an incident than actually occurred. “I believe people sometimes start thinking one way or get on the track of thinking that way without looking at the overall event. So sometimes people’s memories – I don’t want to say play tricks on them – however sometimes what they believe is true, isn’t quite true. This has been proven over and over. So with the cameras you’re alleviating that.”
THE KEY TO TRANSPARENCY
“In this day and age the public wants to see transparency. Which any department, any chief, that’s what you’re all about,” said Stephens. Since the Wolcott PD implemented the Safariland VIEVU body-worn camera program five years ago, he’s had time to observe the subtle, yet important changes the cameras have had on the public’s perception of policing. He tells how the public hadn’t always believed the police were being transparent in their interactions.
“But I feel now by getting the camera — the public knowing we’ve had them so long — realize we are transparent. If we need a copy of the video we have it handy. There’s nothing turned off, [the cameras] are not turned off,” said Stephens. “So I think it’s made us even more transparent with the public where they can see we’re out there for them, and there’s nothing suspicious going on when we’re doing any type of work. We’re doing what we’re getting paid for, and trained for.”
Learn more about Safariland VIEVU body-worn cameras at www.vievu.com.