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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

CPD adds body cameras for 'transparency and accountability'

Cameras have been “invaluable in investigations," the department says.

New medallions hang on the chest of each Columbia Police Department officer.

CPD officers now wear video cameras in the shape of medallions while on duty. The cameras were added at the end of July, putting police accountability into focus.

“If you didn’t know what it was, you would never guess it was a camera,” officer Brad Anderson said.

Columbia police tested four types of body cameras over a year-long period, but settled on the three-inch square Axon model, made by Taser. The 130-degree lens shows the area in front of and to the side of the officer and records everything within speaking range. Cameras are on for the duration of an officer’s shift and can begin recording at the touch of a button whenever an officer interacts with a citizen. Anderson said it is a much better system.

Columbia police have had microphones and car cameras for years, but there were problems, Anderson said. Officers without a car, like the downtown and business district units who patrol on bike or on foot, did not have visual documentation of their actions by car cameras. And car cameras were not helpful if officers left their cars.

Video footage from the body cameras is uploaded at the end of each shift and the footage is stored or deleted, based on its evidentiary value. Video for court cases will be stored until the case’s prosecutor allows its destruction. If footage has no value to a case, it is deleted within 60 days. Only a few administrators, like Anderson, have access to the videos. Police officers have no access to their recordings after the footage has been uploaded.

“If I receive a complaint, I have all the evidence,” said Anderson, who is in the Columbia Police Department’s Internal Affairs division.

CPD is the first law enforcement agency in Missouri to fully implement this technology, CPD spokeswoman Latisha Stroer said in a news release.

“We feel these cameras will support our mission by providing additional evidence to support prosecution; by increasing plea agreements, thus reducing the volume of cases in the system; by increasing transparency and accountability; by assisting in the resolution of complaints; and by increasing efficiency and security in handling evidence,” Stroer said in the release.

The cameras, hardware, installation and www.evidence.com licenses cost $110,000, according to the release. The department will also pay www.evidence.com $40,000 annually for data storage. The money comes from savings in the 2012 budget.

Assistant Chief John Gordon said that the cameras have “cleared officers of misconduct, or allegations of misconduct or excessive force,” and that the cameras have been “invaluable in investigations.”

“I had officers coming and asking for the cameras,” Gordon said. “If there is a $250 piece of equipment that can clear their name, how could you not buy that equipment for them?”

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