By Alex Lloyd Gross
Police in Bensalem Township, Bucks County Pennsylvania have a new tool to use. The concept of body worn camera is not new to police departments, and some departments in Bucks County have implemented them with very good success. Building on those positive experiences, Bensalem is staring to equip their officers with this technology. Today, February 13, 2019, the first officers using these cameras will hit the streets.
When Bensalem went shopping for a system to record the daily encounters of citizens and officers, they first spoke with Philadelphia. “We liked what they had, and thought it would work well here,” said William McVey, Deputy Director of Public Safety for the township. “This is going to be a good tool to use for criminal prosecutions”, he further stated.
Imagine the thief breaking into cars and they get caught, On video they say “Hey Jimmy said i can have it, I’m sorry I messed up, i thought this was jimmy’s car” but once they get into the police station, they have an entire different story. Or imagine twoe drug dealers get stopped. One says they are going to visit a cousin, and gives the officers permission to search the car. When drugs are found, the stories change that the cops threatened, or coerced them into allowing a vehicle search. The truth is right there on video.
“Every encounter will be taped, but the officer has discretion on when to turn the recorder off”, McVey said. . A sexual assault victim, or as they order lunch, or get asked directions perhaps , “This is great for transparency.,” Lt.Kieth Christie said. The video will not be uploaded or disseminated to third parties. It will not be sold or given to production crews doing crime shows. “We will release some of the videos, when there is a need for it to promote public transparency. Even if an officer does something wrong, McVey said it’s important to keep the trust of the public. “It’s better to see this than to hide it,” McVey said.
Citizens that record video with security cameras or cellphones can help the police with this tool. As an example, let’s go back to the theft from auto arrest. A home security video showing the thief casing vehicles, along with the perp’s admission could go along way to adding additional charges of obstruction or even giving the District Attorney the original case on a silver platter.
When a citizen makes an accusation against an officer, that footage can be retrieved to see what happened and what was said. The company who builds the cameras and docking system is AXON Even though Axon ( which also makes tasers) has a complete inventory of police body camera footage, they will not have any access to Bensalem’s footage nor are they involved in setting up their policy, McVey stressed.
He hopes to have the cameras deployed by every officer within a few months. There is also a camera in the patrol wagons to document an arrestee should they make a claim against the police.