Aspen police body cameras will become permanent for all officers

Jason Auslander
Aspen Times
Aspen Police Sgt. Dan Davis shows in 2015 one of the two types of body cameras the Aspen Police Department was experimenting with. One clips to the chest while the other clips to a cap or glasses.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times fileJeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times file

After years of contemplation, Aspen Police Department officials have decided to permanently equip all officers with body cameras, officials said Tuesday.

“We’ve just been really cautious about it,” Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said. “But the last year of giving it a full, department-wide trial (means) we’ve learned a lot from it.”

A camera company gave the department enough cameras for each officer to use one free for a year beginning Jan. 1 to see how they would work, Pryor said.

“The staff has gained a lot of confidence (with the cameras),” he said. “It gives people a bit more comfort they’ll be believed and they can get some evidence if they need it.”

On Tuesday, Pryor and Assistant Chief Linda Consuegra briefed Aspen city councilors on their plan to pay about $1,000 per officer per year to operate the cameras once the yearlong free trial period ends Dec. 31. The program will cost $36,492 a year, which will be funded from the department’s savings fund and will not require more money from the city, she said.

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Councilwoman Rachel Richards praised the department’s decision to use body cameras, saying it will both protect officers from false claims and keep them aware that their behavior is on the record.

“It’s a small price to pay,” Richards said. “Overall it will maintain the trust and integrity of the department.”

Aspen police first began experimenting with body cameras in 2013, when the department bought two cameras and allowed officers to use them on a voluntary basis.

Officer Dan Davis began using a camera regularly then and said Tuesday he has continued to use one on just about every shift ever since. He said he thinks body cameras are valuable because they can protect officers against false accusations, make officers more mindful of their behavior and can be a good reference in both writing reports and identifying suspects.

“It’s got a lot of uses,” Davis said. “But it’s not the end-all. Sometimes it doesn’t tell all of the story. But I think it’s valuable.”

For Consuegra, the protection against liability and evidence gathering capabilities offered by body cameras are the major reasons to use them.

“I think they’re great,” she said. “This is what most law enforcement agencies are moving toward. We’re moving to an era where people say, ‘Where’s the video?’”

Aspen police included questions about body cameras in the 2015 and 2016 community surveys, when 73% and 74% of resident respondents, respectively, said they somewhat or strongly supported body cameras, Consuegra said.

“That said to us that there’s buy-in from the community,” she said.

Pryor said he was surprised by the community’s support for body cameras.

“I wasn’t expecting the community to be as supportive as they were,” he said.

But there also needed to be buy-in from officers.

To that end, the department sent out an internal survey to officers a few weeks ago, Consuegra said. The survey indicated that 76% of Aspen police officers agreed that body cameras were somewhat or very useful, though 34% felt they didn’t improve relations with the community, she said.

Davis said that while there are those officers who still don’t like body cameras, the vast majority of officers support using them.

“Obviously I think it’s great,” he said. “I’m happy they finally pulled the trigger to get them for everybody.”

The body camera system is cloud-based, so it doesn’t require an expensive server or storage space, Consuegra said. Officers dock their cameras at the end of a shift and the information then downloads to the cloud for further use, she said.

The department’s video policy calls for officers to turn on the cameras for any call, though there are exceptions, Consuegra said. If a resident asks an officer to turn off the camera for a reason not pertinent to their investigation, he or she can do that, she said.

Body cameras also are not used at the hospital or by school resource officers for privacy reasons, Consuegra said. The cameras are used by the department’s 27 officers and six community resource officers, she said.

Aspen police have for years had cameras in their cars, and they are activated by turning on sirens.

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies do not have cameras on them or in their cars. Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has said he doesn’t think the devices are necessary.

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