Some Atlantic City police are now wearing body cameras.
A pilot program began Wednesday, with about five officers on each patrol shift wearing the cameras, which resemble a large beeper.
“It’s not response to anything specific,” Sgt. Monica McMenamin said.
Talk about having officers use body cameras began early last year, then gained support after several residents came to City Council meetings complaining about excessive force in the Police Department.
At his December swearing-in, Police Chief Henry White addressed the excessive-force allegations and promised policies to improve the department’s image and help community relations.
“We want the public to believe in us,” said Deputy Chief Joseph Nolan, who oversees the patrol units, where the cameras will go first. “We want the public to trust us. We want the public to see we don’t have anything to hide.”
Worn on the front of the officer’s shirt, the camera is always filming video on a loop. Recording doesn’t begin until an officer hits a switch, which then records beginning 30 seconds before the button was hit. Audio starts the second it’s turned on.
Officers will receive their camera at the beginning of their shift, and announce the number they have over the radio as they do with their car and what area they’re assigned.
At the end of the shift, the officer docks the camera where it recharges and also uploads the video to online storage on the Cloud. It cannot be edited, and it tags the user whenever it’s viewed, explained Sgt. Omar Martin, who is in the department’s IT Department.
After it’s uploaded, the video is deleted from the camera to clear it for the next use. But, if the upload is interrupted, the video stays on the camera until it’s complete, explained Lt. James Sarkos, who heads the Vice Unit.
“It’s foolproof,” he added.
Nolan noted that often, when police-involved incidents are recorded by people on the scene, there can be things missed: it starts into the incident, sound is bad, angles don’t show what happened.
But, with this, the whole episode would be recorded.
“The most important thing is we just want the truth,” Nolan said.
The Taser AXON body cameras cost about $300 each, and are paid through a Community Development Block Grant that also pays for the cost of the docking stations and software used with the cameras.
“It’s no cost to the taxpayer, but it’s a huge benefit to the taxpayer,” Nolan said.
There are 20 cameras, which will be split among the three shifts. Each officer assigned one will use it for two weeks, and then another officer will get it, Nolan explained.
The battery lasts about 12 to 14 hours, depending upon how much recording was done. But the company has assured it will last through a 10-hour shift, Sarkos said.
Only uniform officers will have them at first, and that will include members of the Tac Units, that are assigned to the troubled neighborhoods, as well as K-9 officers.
There is expected to be a learning curve as the officers remember to flip the devices on, but Nolan said he expects that to become second nature quickly.
As the time goes by, more cameras will be purchased.
No policy is in place to give a verbal warning when an officer turns on his or her camera, which would be dictated by the situation, Nolan said.
“Some times it could de-escalate a situation,” Sarkos said.
“Or escalate it,” Nolan added.
The first shift to use the cameras were those coming in at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“Many of our residents do trust our police officers,” Nolan said. “Many of our residents do not. This will eliminate the question of what was said, who said it and how it was said, and see how the incident really took place.”
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