Digging Deeper: La Crosse Police evaluate body cam use - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Digging Deeper: La Crosse Police evaluate body cam use

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Body cameras are changing the focus of policing across the country and subsequently leading to changes in policy.

As we've reported, Minneapolis police are now requiring officers to record any official interaction on their body cams instead of leaving that up to the officer's discretion. This comes in the wake of the fatal shooting of an Australian woman where neither officer on scene had their cameras rolling.

It's a policy La Crosse police said they've had in place since they rolled out their own body mounted cameras around this time last year. But even locally, the scope of cameras is changing.

Neighborhood Resource Officer Alex Burg is one of just a handful of officers in the department who currently use a chest-mounted camera on a daily basis.

And right now he's helping the department evaluate its options now a year into using body cams.

The reason for the possible, and they stress possible, switch comes down mainly to cost. The department would like to outfit more officers with cameras--Officer Burg is hopeful they'll eventually have one for everyone out on patrol--but that would mean a hefty price tag, and not necessarily for the devices themselves.

“A lot of the expense with HD video is the back-end storage. We are obligated by Open Records Law to store any video for 120 days,” said Capt. Jason Melby.

And one reason they're evaluating their options comes down to the different systems. The Panasonic system currently in place is the same as their squad cams, and keeping the same infrastructure made for an easy way into the market. It however doesn't include the back end storage and security for the video, which has to be purchased separately, unlike some of the all-inclusive competitors.

Capt. Melby said, “Taser changed its name to Axon. They have got their own body cam, and that's one of the ones we're currently exploring.”

The body cam market is booming right now with companies competing on both cost and integration of systems. This just four years after a study from the National Institute of Justice showed 75 percent of departments surveyed didn't use body worn cameras. That same study, however, noted a perception of better evidence documentation and increased transparency--potential payoffs the Institute is looking to put that to the test with a pair of studies out West.

“We're doing three waves of surveys of almost 300 police officers,” said Dr. Craig Uchida. “I think there's a need to not only use cameras, but also to engage in community policing activities, other ways of engaging the community to quell some of the issues and problems.”

These issues and problems aren't solved by cameras, but Officer Burg said they can be a helpful tool to build trust.

“Seems like the people I'm having contact with are so accustomed to us having cameras on. They know that we have the cameras so there's less people recording us,” said Officer Burg.

And when it comes down to it, however advanced camera technology may be, it's no substitute for proper training and enforcement tactics.

Capt. Melby said, “By no means should the public or courts think if the cameras didn't capture something that it didn't happen that way.”

“I think it just adds validity to what I'm saying,” added Officer Burg.

Captain Melby also said the testing phase of the different systems will still take some time. Then any results would go into a budget proposal, which means at this point the department is a ways away from making any final decision to change or increase camera use.

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WXOW gratefully acknowledges the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, for allowing us to reproduce, in part or in whole, the video "Looking at the Impact on Policing of Body Worn Cameras." The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this video are those of the speaker(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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