Dover Police Department trying out body cameras for officers

DOVER — With criminal justice reform remaining a hot-button topic throughout 2020, the Dover Police Department is taking the initial steps towards implementing a body-camera system for its police officers, which aims to provide greater transparency during the interactions they have with criminal suspects they encounter.

Sgt. Mark Hoffman, spokesman for the Dover police, said the department received six body cameras from Coban Tech, which already is the provider for the dashboard cameras that are currently installed in the city’s police cars.

The Coban Tech body cameras are a trial program for the department, among others the police department has participated in with varying companies.

“It’s no secret that we’ve been trying things out,” Sgt. Hoffman said. “It’s just a matter of us seeing what’s a fit for our department in regards to everything from ease of use to comfort level to officer feedback, all the way up to the big thing, which is storage, whether it is a physical location in regard to storage here (at the police department) or a cloud-based system network.

“When you do a trial there’s no cost and they bring in a set of cameras to be used. So there’s no cost to the city for the trial or anything.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen is optimistic that the police-worn body-camera program is well on its way to coming to the city, saying it is just a matter of finding the right fit and the necessary funding.

“We have two things that we have to do — we have to find something that’s compatible with the equipment that we have in place with the Dover PD or what we’re going to have to purchase to make this a workable idea, and the other thing is, we’re going to have to find the funding for it,” Mayor Christiansen said.

“I think that because of the mayor and council’s commitment to this, we’re hoping that an outside entity such as the state of Delaware will sponsor a statewide program of financing these body cams (to different municipalities). If not, we’re going to look into a mechanism at how we can purchase these and fund them through our own resources (within the city).”

Sgt. Hoffman said the Dover Police Department has tried out a couple of other body-camera systems and isn’t sure if there will be any additional companies that it will test with after Coban Tech.

“I know the big thing with this one (Coban) is we use the Coban system currently for their computer systems and our in-car videos, so this is big for us, knowing that we have them put their equipment in our police cars already and this can kind of be a seamless transition to that,” he said. “The biggest thing it’s going to come down to is dollars and cents.

“The initial cost isn’t that high for the actual cameras themselves and the chargers, but the significant cost is in the storage capacity. We have 106 officers of authorized strength and you can imagine the amount of content that would be generated on a daily basis and how do you store that?

“That will more than likely require a whole new server for the department to not only purchase, but to maintain, so somebody can keep track of all the files for evidentiary purposes, and if it’s cloud-based, then you’re looking at subscription fees and storage fees with the company … and those things all add up to a significant price tag.”

The price might be well worth it if can help with the issues of police and the community members they interact with every day.

The cameras could possibly prevent an incident such as the one that left George Floyd dead May 25 in Minneapolis. In that encounter, an officer knelt down on Mr. Floyd’s neck during an arrest, which prohibited him from being able to breathe – sparking nationwide protests regarding racial injustice.

Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson said earlier this fall that his officers are anxious to acquire the bodycams as soon as possible and put them to use.

“We’re just waiting to see which one (funding plan) we’re going to land on, so we can get over this hurdle,” Chief Johnson said. “We value (body-worn cameras), and we actually think it’s going to improve a lot of the things in relation to our current climate once it crosses the finish line. Like a lot of other things, we’re trying to be smart about it as much as we are trying to work hard on it.”

Mayor Christiansen and Chief Johnson have been tasked by members of Dover City Council to bring some funding quotes from different body-camera companies forward by the end of the year.

“Once again, this shows the commitment of the mayor and council and the chief of police and the men and women of the Dover Police Department to put a body-cam program in place that’s workable and can do the job that needs to be done,” the mayor said. “I think everybody’s wish is to see the state start a statewide program.”

Dover City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said he is pleased at the quick pace in which the city has brought body-worn cameras by police officers to the forefront.

“I am ecstatic to see council and the mayor’s office achieving this goal collectively, illustrating to our constituents that we will get the job done as soon as possible,” Councilman Sudler said. “Nevertheless, it is pertinent that we recognize community leaders such as Mr. Cecil Wilson, Mrs. Chelle Paul, Mr. Bobby Wilson and Mrs. Rita Mishoe Paige and others who have helped set the tone for conveying how important it is to work together as one force.

“I hope we can continue to establish a healthier relationship between the community, police and local/state representatives in an effort to get things done.”

Dover Police Lt. Jordan Miller, who is also president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15 in Dover, said in early fall that the officers who report to him ask about the cameras every day.

“There isn’t a day that goes by where someone doesn’t say, ‘You know, that would have been great to have that on a body camera. Wouldn’t that have been good?’” Lt. Miller said. “We’ve wanted them for some time, and we understand that the funding is an issue.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of different contacts throughout the state, and I think every (police department) wants them. I think it’s the ultimate window into what’s actually happening right now. It takes all that guessing work from behind the scenes right out of the equation. I can’t wait to hear what the end result’s going to be.”

Right now, the Dover Police Department remains in test mode.

“We’re just doing our homework and preparing for the full-blown body-cam program that will be coming for the department eventually,” Sgt. Hoffman said.