Eye on crime: Police chief pushes for body cams on officers

S.L. Chief pushes technology as step toward transparency

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14 2012 6:00 a.m. MST

"And you'd be surprised how many times a person will say, 'Yes, go ahead and search me for narcotics,' and you find dope in their pocket and you get to court later and the question is, 'Well, who in their right mind would ever tell the police it's OK to search?' Well, they actually did. But now you would have documentation of that taking place," he said.

Or it could be used in domestic violence cases where a victim later changes their story in court and no longer wants to press charges. A recording of the initial incident would show a court the emotion, and possibly even the injuries that the officer saw when he or she was first called to the scene.

The cameras could even be used in a simple case of running a stop sign.

"No longer is it the officer's word versus the other driver whether he stopped," the chief said.

In October, Burbank received the endorsement of the Police Civilian Review Board. Each body cam costs about $1,000.

Burbank conceded that some people, even within his own department, worry the cameras are another step toward Big Brother watching over the public's every movement. And he knows there will be times when his officers are recorded in situations unfavorable to the department.

But overall, he believes, the cameras will actually serve to document the good work that his officers do.

"There's no question that when an officer is wearing a camera they're more conscious about what they say, they're more conscious of the interaction. But the other thing that's really unique about this, what better way to document evidence?" he said. "Here's exactly what (suspect or victim) said, what his emotion was, everything that had to do with it. The accountability for that entire process is validated.

"What I think you will find is more often than not, that the officer will want the unit on, because it will capture so many things and be very valuable to the police officer," Burbank said.

In some cases, officers could also use it to review what a witness or suspect told them.

"You have the ability to capture statements that are given spontaneously," he said. "It has nothing to do with an officer trying to be coercive or anything else. It's just accurately capturing an event as it unfolds."

Burbank said his goal is to improve policing as a whole.

"I am always interested in making determinations about officers' actions, about what we did. I'm trying to get the facts as best I can. And what better way to get to the factual event of what actually occurred than to have an audio and video recording?"

Email: preavy@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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