A familiar accessory in neighboring law enforcement agencies, the body camera is a smartphone-size recording device that creates a real-time public record of law enforcement’s interactions. The cameras will be used by officers in the St. Charles County Police Department, St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department and the St. Charles County Department of Corrections. Officers in these departments field-tested cameras and equipment for two months, and the County Council approved the purchase earlier this year.
“The body cameras will protect our officers and help put situations in context for the public, but they also will reaffirm confidence in our police services,” explains St. Charles County Police Chief Kurt Frisz. “Our mission is to consistently perform our duties and to find ways to promote, preserve and deliver a feeling of security, safety and quality service to members of our community. These cameras are another tool to help us fulfill this mission.”
The body camera faces outward through an opening on an officer’s outermost uniform garment, and is secured to allow the officer to move naturally and prevent the camera from disengaging during a struggle or physical activity. The system also includes forward and rear-facing cameras and routers for law enforcement vehicles. The cameras record and retain video to the cloud, in accordance with Missouri law, for future access by officers, law enforcement executives, and the St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. With the ability to compile body camera videos and related data into “case files” pertaining to a specific incident, access to information can help make the Prosecuting Attorney’s office casework more efficient in reaching discovery deadlines, and ultimately expedite the judicial process.
Officers will be required by policy to activate cameras when engaging with others. Additionally, with this next generation technology, both body and vehicle camera packages include intelligent sensors that activate the cameras in a variety of high-stress situations, allowing officers to maintain and focus on safety. The cameras also include a real-time mapping system that alerts dispatchers and nearby officers of a critical incident. The County has developed a records retention policy for footage obtained.
Amid a growing debate around transparency and public trust, the use of body cameras is considered a smart solution to maintaining positive law enforcement-community relations.
“The perceived lack of transparency by law enforcement has led to the public’s lack of trust for law enforcement over the last several years,” says Sheriff Scott Lewis. “The deployment of body cameras is considered the best way to address this challenge.”
Other program benefits include improved evidentiary documentation, reduction in complaints and lawsuits, higher rates of compliance, and accurate reporting.
“The body cameras also offer opportunities to improve and advance policies through training, and to heighten professionalism,” adds Dan Keen, Director of Corrections. “Our leaders can use the footage to assess officers’ activities and behaviors, which can be used to coach officers and provide leadership with situational awareness to change strategies.”
The body camera program is estimated to cost $2.5 million over five years to cover the cost of 277 cameras, 135 in-vehicle cameras, routers, modified uniforms, cloud storage and training.