Natatia Bledsoe is the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.
Body cameras are newest addition to FPD arsenal
Fredericksburg city police officers are now carrying a new high tech weapon in an effort to combat crime. About the size of a cigar and attached to the lapel or sunglasses, the new Axon body cameras made by Taser International are designed to capture video and audio of an officer’s actions and perspective during an investigation or enforcement encounter.
There are many agencies across the country that have started deploying some form of body camera along with the other gear worn by street officers and detectives. The quality of the video produced is impressive, and the captured data is strong evidence to support a written report documenting an interview or an officer’s interaction with the public.
Officers will not be activating the cameras for every random conversation or minor citizen encounter, and recordings that are not useful for evidence or training will automatically be purged from the storage system after thirty days. Prior to outfitting all of our patrol officers with the new devices, we spent several months testing the cameras and gathering feedback from select officers who were wearing them on a trial basis. We also wrote and rewrote a policy to govern the details of the camera use, which includes this excerpt:
“The use of video and audio recording will be for the purpose of recording evidentiary data to assist in the enforcement and prosecution of federal, state and local statutes. It will also be used to provide an accurate record of an incident for investigative purposes, risk management, civil liability defense and enhancement of officer safety.”
Officers are not required to inform a citizen that they are being recorded, but some of our officers have already noticed that potentially volatile situations often deescalate once someone realizes their words and actions are being captured on tape.
A recent New York Times article chronicled the increase in the use of body cameras among law enforcement and noted an interesting ongoing study from the police department in Rialto, California, which has been using the cameras since early 2012. The study found that citizen complaints against officers dropped 88 percent during the first year of camera deployment, and the Rialto officers’ use of force during the same time frame declined by 60 percent.
While the Fredericksburg Police Department already has a low rate of citizen complaints and incidents requiring the use of force, it is our expectation that we will also see positive effects from the use of this new technology as we continue striving to improve our service to the community.