Little Rock police complete body camera test

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Since announcing in late October that the Little Rock Police Department would purchase body cameras with a federal grant, officers have been testing two different devices.

Police Chief Keith Humphrey announced on Halloween that the department had received a $194,000 matching grant from the US Department of Justice to purchase 150 body cameras.

Humphrey then estimated that after a trial period in which officers would test two different body cameras, a law enforcement committee and city staff would choose one camera by April. This testing period ended on Friday.

Four vendors submitted proposals for the department, which the agency narrowed down to two. Six officers have been testing the cameras in two-week increments since mid-November, police spokesman Eric Barnes said.

The next step for the committee, Barnes said, will be to review the officers’ comments and determine which body camera model best meets the department’s needs. If neither does, Barnes said, it’s possible officers will test another of the four sellers’ wares.

The department would not release the names of vendors whose body cameras were being tested by officers.

Officer Olen Lakey of the 12th Street Station said he received an email in early November saying he would be among the officers testing the body cameras. At the time, Lakey said, he didn’t have very strong feelings about officers with chest-mounted recording devices.

“I didn’t care anyway. If someone higher up said I needed it, then I would,” Lakey said. “Like everything, it’ll show part of the picture, not the whole picture.”

However, after testing both camera options, Lakey said he liked some of the benefits of having a body cam.

Lakey noticed more people approaching him on the street to ask about his body camera or to ask how it worked while he was wearing it, he said.

“People act differently,” Lakey said Friday. “With one of the cameras, you can turn the screen to face them so they can see each other and they can see they’re being filmed.”

Lakey said that when people he meets see themselves on camera, they tend to calm down more quickly. In this way, Lakey said, cameras can be a security measure for officers, with an added layer of accountability for the citizen.

When asked if the cameras had the same effect on him, Lakey laughed.

“We’re already recorded all the time,” Lakey said, explaining that each patrol car has a video camera mounted and each officer has a lavalier microphone that records. Lakey said people also often record his interactions on their cellphones and there are always surveillance cameras around.

“It won’t change the way I act because I already know I’m on camera,” he said. “You know you’re going to be saved one way or another.”

If the camera’s only functionality was to add an extra lens, some officers would think that’s unnecessary, Lakey’s partner Thomas Coleman added.

“We don’t need another camera,” Coleman said. “We need to be able to review the video. We need GPS. I know a few officers who think so. … If it could do more than just record that would be great.”

One of the cameras, Lakey said, had the ability to take stills without interrupting the video. Lakey said officers often need to take photos, such as when a victim of domestic violence has bruises that fade before the person goes to court. Officers don’t want to use their cell phones because that would mean evidence is on their personal devices, Lakey said.

Having a body camera that can take pictures, he said, means the officer has a way to easily gather that evidence.

Cameras that offer immediate review — playback on a small screen on the device — also allow officers to report more fully and catch things they might otherwise miss.

To illustrate this point, Coleman told a story. An officer is sent for a robbery at a gas station, Coleman said, and as the officer walks towards the gas station, he sees a truck speeding away. When he enters, the clerk tells him that the thief was in the truck.

“I’m human, I don’t know what kind of truck it was,” Coleman said. “But if we can watch the video, maybe I can tell over the radio that it’s a black Silverado and the direction it’s heading.”

One of the cameras Lakey tested had an immediate review option. The other no. Lakey said one also functions as both a body camera and a lavalier microphone. The other had no microphone. One had GPS capability that allowed command to know where each officer was at all times.

One camera attached by a magnet to both sides of an officer’s shirt and the other looped around the officer’s body armor. Lakey said that one who was only attached to a magnet could easily tear himself off, and he did this once while arresting someone during the probationary period.

Lakey said he understands some officers might not like having extra gear to strap on every day, but body cameras would go a long way to improving relations between residents and police.

“It adds a layer of confidence,” Lakey said. “The community needs to be able to come and talk to us. … It’s a matter of perception.”

Lakey and Coleman said they were glad patrol officers were able to test the cameras, adding that the testing period would help administrators make the decision that best meets officers’ needs.

“Because, you know, we have to wear them,” Coleman said.

Subway on 23/12/2019


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