When Sixth District Officer Sasha Skipper needs to review what happened at a scene she responded to, all she has to do is go to the tape.
“You can plug it in, review the camera and see what happened,” said Officer Skipper. “It is what it is.”
That’s because every encounter she has with a citizen is captured on her Body Worn Camera (BWC).
Two years ago, the NOPD took a major step forward to increase police transparency and accountability by rolling out one of the largest BWC programs in the country. Today, the NOPD has a total of 620 BWCs and the device is now a standard part of the uniform for officers who respond to citizen calls for service.
“This technology has done two things for us – it has changed police officer behavior and has also changed citizen behavior,” said NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison.
The device, which is affixed to the officer’s chest, is designed to record all interaction between officers and the people they serve. NOPD policy requires officers to turn their BWC on at the start of every interaction with the community. At the end of each shift, officers categorize the videos and upload them to a cloud server.
To measure the effectiveness of the program, the department audits BWC usage every month. The results of those audits over the past several months show that officers have embraced the new technology and the department is at 99 percent compliance with the program.
The videos have helped to eliminate the “he-said-she-said” accounts of an incident and provide an unbiased account of events. Officers are allowed to review the videos as they write police reports. They’ve also become an important resources for the District Attorney’s Office in building strong criminal cases.
At the same time, the footage is an invaluable training tool used at the NOPD Training Academy. As part of the department’s on-going training, officers evaluate and critique real-life situations captured on BWCs. The videos have also helped the department to more effectively handle citizen complaints against officers, exonerating officers when no incident occurred and holding them accountable when they violate policy. Supervisors are also using the BWC footage to more closely and effectively manage their officers.
“As we continue to grow, I am committed to doing everything we can to continue to be transparent with the public about the way we are policing,” said Chief Harrison.
3 Things You Should Know About the NOPD Body Worn Camera Program:
Who wears BWCs?
- District platoon (calls for service response) and general assignment (proactive) Officers;
- School Resource Officers;
- Gang Task Force Officers;
- Special Operations Division Officers (SWAT, Canine, etc.); and
- District Sergeants (as inventory permits).
When are BWCs activated?
- All field contacts involving law enforcement activity, including all calls for service;
- Other contacts that become adversarial after initial contact in a situation that would not otherwise require recording; and
- Other situations where the officer believes it would serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose.
How much does the program cost?
- Each BWC costs approximately $400, but the annual cost of licensing and video storage for each camera is estimated at an additional $1,000 per year, assuming that video is stored for a period of three years.
- This cost can be impacted by video storage retention requirements, which can reduce the total amount of data being stored and thus reduce the cost.