Davenport Police Look at Body Cams, Buffalo Officers Already Use - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Davenport Police Look at Body Cams, Buffalo Officers Already Use

Posted: Updated: May 21, 2014 11:25 PM
    Caught on camera. We hear it all the time. Many times, from local police who have cameras in their squad cars and are able to go to the video when there is a question about a call. But some departments are looking at taking that a step further.

    Some are already riding with silent partners, watching and documenting their every move. Body cameras are not new to law enforcement, in place in Dallas, the Minneapolis area and in Buffalo, Iowa, where officers have worn them for years. Now, the Davenport Police Department is looking at possibly doing the same thing. Chief Frank Donchez tells us, "I think that body cameras will certainly be the wave of the future." He says he's ready to embrace that future. He is ready for a routine traffic stop to be between a driver, and officer and the camera he or she is wearing. And he says, he's ready for all calls to be captured on video. "The squad car camera captures things that are going on," he says. "We stop a vehicle, but I tell you what, you jump out and you chase somebody, now you're out of camera view. If you go into a building or somewhere else, we lose the ability to capture."

    Davenport police are set to test technology that could change that. In the coming days they'll be testing three different versions of body cameras at three different price points. The Assistant Chief tells us officers tried out cameras before, about 2 1/2 years ago, but decided against them because the video back then wouldn't stand up in court. Maj. Don Schaeffer says, "Any kind of movement, if you just turned and looked, it shot over here, or it jiggled, you know (smiles) you know. And they've come a long ways on some of that."

    Buffalo officers see that every day, using body cameras as standard equipment for the past two years. Chief TJ Behning, wearing one the day we spoke, says, "As soon as we get a call, I just turn it on. Or I pull over a traffic stop, I just switch it on. It covers the entirety of the traffic stop or the call." And he says, it covers officers when it comes to citizen complaints. That's one of the primary reasons Chief TJ Behning convinced the city council to buy four cameras, at 150 dollars each, and order more. He says video can provide  backup when someone questions how a call was handled. "I've actually told them it's all on video. You can come in and fill out your complaint. And they don't show up." While he hasn't used the cameras in court yet, Behning says he could. "It's very clear. It's 1080 HD, so it's very clear."

    But recording an interview can be problematic in Illinois, according to the Rock Island County Sheriff, because the state has stricter laws than Iowa when it comes to recording conversations. And while there are exceptions for media and police, Boyd says, "I certainly wouldn't want to be the first department to test it and use it and figure out all the little nuances with it." Like making sure privacy concerns are addressed, not only for the public, but also police. Some police unions in cities where officers already wear cameras are raising red flags. And Sheriff Jeff Boyd questions whether cameras would make his officers uncomfortable. "Because they may go from zero to 100 miles an hour in a matter of seconds, and I wouldn't want to add anything more to an already difficult job through technology."

    At the same time, he says technology is a good thing. Davenport's Chief agrees, saying he's already seen the payoff from squad car cameras. "I can speak personally from the officers' perspective from years ago as they started talking about cameras. Oh geez, we're gonna get into trouble more often. But I have to tell you, way more often than not, it exonerates the officer of wrongdoing." Why he and his team say body cameras are the right choice. Maj. Schaeffer says, "Any kind of video or a still picture is ten times better than testimony."

    Buffalo's Chief tells us one of the cameras he's ordering is a little more expensive. At a cost of $1,000, it will actually sync up with squad car cameras. Meantime, Davenport is looking at cameras that cost anywhere from $300 to $900 each, and the Assistant Chief says those will go to 50 or 60 officers. That's an expense that must be approved by the city council,and could take months to happen. There is no timeline on that yet.
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