Van Beek: Smile, you’re on candid camera
Police reform has been a hot topic for quite some time. It is exacerbated by the actions of law enforcement officers and deputies who should never have been given the honor and responsibility of the position. Yet, their negative behavior reflects on us all.
Fortunately, in our wonderful community, we have not been plagued by the fear and doubt that has consumed others. Across Eagle County, police departments and our sheriff’s office have received the support that we all continually work to earn and maintain.
Yet, we all seek to do better. While each call may be categorized under a common term, they are unique. The circumstances and individuals involved vary from incident to incident. While everyone strives for increased efficiency, there is the reality of the job itself: addressing trauma, violence and general lawlessness.
Part of our job is to anticipate and prepare for unexpected events, as well as the common ones. We are continually engaged in training exercises, peer review, academic enrichment and cross-departmental outreach. We work with first responders across the board, from medical to community organizations. These associations provide us with differing front-line perspectives. Medical provides us with knowledge and access to mental health options, and social service organizations give us greater context for cultural variances.
One of the most interesting things that has come to pass in Colorado, which is mandatory beginning July 2023 (though Eagle County will begin its use in January 2022), will be the use of body cameras on law enforcement uniforms. Like everything else, there are great benefits, but also some challenges. In addition, it is a very costly option, yet in many ways, worth the expense.
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Regarding a body cam’s capabilities, I think it’s important for everyone to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their use to establish realistic expectations.
Here are some of the pros and cons of using body cams.
First, understand the physical characteristics of the cameras. The sheriff’s office will be using the Axon Body-3, a portable device, roughly 3 inches squared. It offers state-of-the-art technology, providing exceptional clarity, responsiveness and impact resistance. They will be worn by deputies throughout their shift.
- Recording interactions minimizes complaints about officer behavior, including claims of unnecessary use of force.
- Both officers and citizens tend to be more restrained when they know that they are being recorded.
- It provides evidence of decisions made under duress.
- Since memory can become clouded during intense situations, footage captures evidence of what occurred and the sequence of events.
- Video recordings protect both officers and citizens from misguided or false accusations.
- Body cams allow for a higher degree of transparency and accountability.
- Knowing that interactions are recorded can help to de-escalate confrontations.
- It may assist with recall of events, statements and evidence obtained from victims and witnesses.
- It can be considered proof in cases and aid in court proceedings.
- It can increase the rate of convictions or proof of innocence.
- Privacy is an issue.
- The knowledge that their conversations are being recorded may dissuade some people from coming forward regarding a crime for fear of retaliation or public exposure
- As an electronic piece of hardware, the camera can malfunction. The officer may think they are recording, when in fact the battery might be dead, the lens is obstructed or there’s a mechanical error.
- The body cam itself is very costly per unit; an Axon Body-3 camera is about $600. Considering that every officer needs one, body cams can become prohibitively expensive.
- Operational expenses can also mount, as there is regular maintenance, the cost of data storage (the higher the resolution, the greater the storage capacity required), cataloging and retrieving video and the chain of digital custody — plus, securing this data is different from other types of evidence. It is sensitive to extreme temperatures, magnetic devices and other issues relating to data storage and recovery. The information may degrade or become “unreadable” over time. Since it involves technology, those unfamiliar with it might accidentally delete something they intended to save. We’ve all experienced that in our own personal lives. So, it’s not a flawless method, but it provides transparency with accurate and timely information when handled properly.
As we continue to improve our law enforcement strategies to better serve the community, we are always open to suggestions. We will always listen and implement worthy ideas when feasible, keeping in mind that there are sometimes limitations to what we can, both legally and physically.
Your safety is our highest priority. We aim to provide you with an environment where you can enjoy the peace and beauty of our amazing landscape and welcoming community.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.