Craig Police Department equips officers with body cameras | CraigDailyPress.com

Craig Police Department equips officers with body cameras

Janelle O'Dea

— Smile, you're on Craig Police Department's candid camera.

As of Feb. 11, all Craig Police Department officers have body cameras. The department decided the body cameras would be more cost-effective than the dashboard cameras used in police cars.

The department has used dashboard cameras and digital voice recorders for about the last decade, Sergeant Tony Fandel said.

The car cameras cost between $4,000 and $5,000 each, Police Chief Walt Vanatta said. The body cameras cost about $500 each and provide better video coverage for the department.

They were able to equip the entire department with body cameras for a little more than the cost of one dashboard camera, Fandel said.

Each camera can hold anywhere from four to 13 hours of video depending on the setting used, Commander Jerry DeLong said.

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In the past few years, the Craig Police Department used the car cameras in combination with digital voice recorders. The department will, in the long run, be phasing out the car cameras "because the scope is limited," Vanatta said.

Most body cameras available have a 70-degree field of vision, Fandel said, but the department chose to invest in AXON body cameras because the provide a 130-degree field of vision. A company called TASER makes the cameras.

A lot of departments choose not to use the body cameras because of cost, but it's actually a cost-effective solution for the Craig Police Department. When the car cameras broke, it would cost upwards of $1,000 to fix them, Vanatta said.

There are four times the officers are instructed to turn the cameras on; during all investigative contacts, all traffic stops, any self-initiated activity and any contact that becomes adversarial.

The Craig Police Department now has a section of their policy manual dedicated to proper conduct in turning on and turning off the body cameras.

The officers will not use body cameras during certain time periods or situations in a contact, though.

"We also need to be sensitive to privacy issues; particularly if we are at a home," Vanatta said. "For example, if someone needs to change clothes to go to jail or go to the hospital (we'll turn it off). Whenever it appears the privacy interests outweigh any legitimate law enforcement interests."

The cameras, according to studies cited by Vanatta, reduce use of force incidents by 59 percent and reduce citizen complaints by 87 percent.

The cameras will also provide often much-needed clarification.

"By just using (digital voice recorders) we get the same results; we get a complaint about an officer being rude and we listen and we try to figure out where the officer was rude," DeLong said.

The officers had a two-hour-long training to learn how to use the cameras, and Fandel, who was in charge of doing research on body camera systems, spent about a year researching before choosing the TASER AXON cameras.

Although citizen and police behavior will hopefully improve with the use of the cameras, Fandel is thinks they'll have the most impact in the courtroom.

"You're going to be able to bring it into the courtroom and see a crime scene," Fandel said. "If you're interviewing, you can see someone's emotional state. I think it will have more impact for the jury."

Contact Janelle O’Dea at 970-875-1795 or jodea@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @jayohday.