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Body cameras a valuable tool for Rialto police

April 24, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sgt. Chris Hice of the Rialto Police Department wears a camera on his uniform for each shift. He says the device has taken the police work he does to the next level.

"This is giving me the view of everything I see all the time," Hice said. "This device not only enhances our ability to do our job, but it also teaches us to do our job better."

In the aftermath of a heated exchange, the body cameras can act as a third party witness, sorting out the he-said she-said that often accompanies an investigation into an officer's conduct. The camera can be clipped into place on the officer's shirt collar or mounted on sunglasses. The body cameras allow officers to record every encounter with the public as evidence.

"Everyone has a cellphone," Rialto Police Chief William Farrar said. "There is probably not a teenager out there to an adult that doesn't carry some kind of smartphone or cellphone, and they are recording police activity that takes place throughout the U.S., so why not have our own video?"

That's the argument Farrar used to convince officers to field test the cameras as part of a research study. A year later, the police department saw an 88 percent drop in the number of complaints filed against officers. The camera experiment also showed use of force by officers went down 60 percent.

"I think we can all say, 'Hey, these cameras do make a difference,'" Farrar said. "These cameras are for the benefit of not only the citizens, but the officers and the department as well."

There are, however, some concerns about privacy. Peter Birbring with the American Civil Liberties Union said body cameras add transparency to police work so long as the videos collected are used properly .

"By recording police officers' interactions with the public, the department is protecting the public against police abuse, and protecting officers against false accusations of abuse," Birbring said.

To protect and store the videos, officers upload their cameras at the end of each shift to an online evidence website.

With the study is now over, the body worn cameras have proved so effective that Farrar decided to keep them rolling. With the help of technology grants, the police department is looking to buy more of them at a cost of $1,200 per unit.

It may be money well spent as compared to the cost of an investigation or a long court battle.


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