Ready for your closeup: Cheswold Police now wear body cameras

CHESWOLD — Seeing and hearing is now believing for a Kent County law enforcement agency.

Starting this month Cheswold Police officers attached video cameras to their uniform fronts to record all their actions and words — along with those they contact.

“The cameras are not there to catch someone doing something wrong,” Police Chief Christopher Workman said. “They’re a tool for officers and the goal is just to record exactly what happened and what was said.”

In the past two weeks the cameras haven’t largely impacted any case. But Chief Workman figures it’s inevitable at some point.

Officers behavior can be scrutinized just as the public they meet up with for a variety of reasons, the chief noted.

“It alters everyone’s behavior, including our officers, honestly, and the way you may talk or interact with people will change,” Chief Workman said.

Recently, the chief fielded a call from the husband of a woman earlier ticketed for a traffic violation. The husband made a claim of officer rudeness. Chief Workman reviewed the entire seven minutes-plus of footage and saw nothing but a respectful back and forth interaction.

No official complaint was lodged, but the chief would have felt comfortable defending his officer if issues were raised.

Chief Workman and Cheswold’s four other police officers are adapting to having their actions being recorded, too. And any mis-steps will be captured.

The town’s police force recently scheduled patrol coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Officer shifts run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. or vice versa, and the chief takes eight-hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well.

“It’s a new area for us and we’re trying to learn who’s out and about prior to 5:30 in the morning,” Chief Workman said. “It’s a growing, learning process for both our town and officers. They’re learning that things go on and people are out and about at that time and it may be normal.”

Chief Workman said he spent nearly two years researching how to efficiently transition to body cameras instead of dashcams in vehicles. That included from a cost standpoint to quality of recording. Police cruisers had dashcams installed for years, but it had cost over $5,000 to install a unit.

Eventually, $14,000 of annual state funding through a Violent Crimes Grant was allocated for the $600 body cameras. That included warranties, cost of Cloud space and data storage. The Scottsdale, Arizona-based Axon company provided a five-year program and will replace the cameras halfway through at no cost.

Before signing off, the police chief presented his findings to Cheswold town council members for transparency sake.

Said Cheswold Vice Mayor Larence Kirby, “The value of body cameras lies in recording officer and citizen actions for comparison to written and spoken accounts. More and more, society scrutinizes officers’ actions and the cameras will provide confirmation of their interaction with citizens.

“The cameras may also encourage citizens to act appropriately when engaging with our officers.

“Finally, camera footage can be utilized to educate our officers in properly carrying out procedures. As a small department, the cameras should effectively promote citizen engagement and officer training.”

The chief worked with the Delaware Department of Justice and Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council to adopt policy for camera use which is expected to be operated during all interactions. A time lapse function allows the 30 seconds prior to activation to be saved as well, though without audio.

The cameras turn on any time an officer taps the device twice or activates emergency vehicle lights. GPS is included along with a time stamp as the footage is captured. Video is downloaded onto a Cloud folder specifically for Cheswold Police and can be maintained or deleted as needed.

With a town population approaching 2,000 according to a police estimate, there’s plenty to cover. The Parkers Run and Nobles Pond neighborhoods have filled in what’s roughly a mile and a half square area just north of Dover; a property on Messina Road is nearing annexation.

Chief Workman believes using body cameras will lessen the number of false complaints filed and assist in clearing up others. Footage can aid in investigation and prosecution of cases by police and the Delaware DOJ, he said.

Video and audio of domestic-related responses can be especially useful, police said, in sorting out who said and did what and when.

In June 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union issued an updated stance on use of police body cameras that included, among other points:

• A law enforcement officer who is wearing a body camera shall notify the person or persons of the recording that they are being recorded by a body camera as close to the inception of the encounter as is reasonably possible.

Cheswold policy states: “Whenever possible, officers should inform individuals that they are being recorded unless doing so would be unsafe, impractical, or impossible. An officer may consider, where appropriate, the expressed desire of a victim or witness. “

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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