Last month, the Ocean View Police Department purchased body cameras for its officers, but OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin emphasized that it wasn’t in response to recent discussions nationwide about police interactions with suspects and the public. OVPD officers have been wearing cameras for almost five years.
“We’ve had a body camera program for a couple years now. It’s not what everyone thinks it is — we’re not doing it in response to anything that has happened recently,” said Chief Ken McLaughlin. “We’ve had cameras in every one of our patrols cars for 10 years now, as have most law enforcement agencies in the state of Delaware.”
The new Vievu LE3 cameras are built to military specifications, with an internal microphone, making them more robust than the old ones, which McLaughlin said he hopes will help them last longer. The new cameras were paid for out of the department’s budget and cost approximately $900 each. The older cameras cost approximately $60 each.
The cameras can clip to the officers’ uniforms and are slightly bigger than their old cameras — about the size of a pager.
McLaughlin said the department was excited about the new cameras, and even more excited about the secure software that goes with them.
“With the old system, you had to hook up to your computer and download everything. This doesn’t have the encrypted software, so it could potentially be manipulated,” he explained of the old system.
“The new cameras come with software where you put the camera on the cradle and it downloads all the data to a special system on our server,” he said. “The officers can view the files, but they can’t manipulate it in any way. They can’t alter the video.”
According to the Vievu website, the software deals with “the storage, retrieval and management of video files from Vievu law enforcement camera systems. The VeriPatrol software utilizes a FIPS 140-2 compliant digital signature process to prove that the video has not been altered, and VidLock security prevents unauthorized access if the camera is lost or stolen.”
The software will also allow the officers to add additional information about each complaint record to accompany the video and make it easier for the videos to be located in the department’s system.
McLaughlin said the body cameras have been successful over the years, especially with DUI cases.
“When we’ve used them the most is when we do our field sobriety tests and we’re recording them when they’re out of view of the car camera.”
“It gives you a totally different perspective,” added Cpl. Rhys Bradshaw. “On a DUI, from our car camera you may not catch everything. But when I’m seeing you swaying, the body cam may catch that.”
McLaughlin stated that, although the cameras can be helpful, they are not foolproof.
“There are a lot of limitations to these. This isn’t going to catch everything, and then it only gives you one angle. Think about a Sunday football game. It’s tied and in overtime. There’s a play that takes place and the opposing team throws a flag and calls for a review. How many different camera angles do they look at?
“You could have one camera angle that shows touchdown, and then you got another camera angle that shows he was six inches out. They might have a dozen different angles, and it still could be in debate. You could be outfitted with this camera, and it’s still not going to catch everything.”
The cameras will not be left on throughout an officer’s shift, which McLaughlin said has been the department’s existing policy.
“The big thing is you have to turn it on, which can be nearly impossible in the heat of the moment,” McLaughlin noted. As an example, he said, a body camera would not be engaged when an officer was simply speaking to a citizen on the street. “We wouldn’t record that conversation. But if it all of a sudden turned violent and the guy attacks you that quick, you’re never going to catch it.”
McLaughlin explained that the officer must manually engage the camera, since there are a number of situations, such as speaking to an informant on the street or engaging in a phone conversation with a spouse or family member, that shouldn’t be recorded.
“Some people think they should be on all the time,” he said. “We’re people, too. We have rights, too.”
Body cameras have other limitations, as well. According to a recent report from the Force Science Institute, body cameras don’t follow an officer’s eye movement, cannot pick up on “danger clues” and record at different speeds, which means what is captured on the video and what was seen by the officer could be completely different. The report also noted that an officer’s body may block the view of the camera.
“How much of a scene a camera captures is highly dependent on where it’s positioned and where the action takes place,” Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, noted in the report. “Depending on location and angle, a picture may be blocked by your own body parts, from your nose to your hands.
“If you’re firing a gun or a Taser, for example, a camera on your chest may not record much more than your extended arms and hands. Or just … your stance may obscure the camera’s view. Critical moments within a scenario that you can see may be missed entirely by your body cam because of these dynamics, ultimately masking what a reviewer may need to see to make a fair judgment.”
McLaughlin said the department purchased cameras that do not record in high-definition, not only because more storage would be required for HD video, but because those cameras in some cases can record more than the human eye can see, thus misrepresenting the officer’s point of view.
“We also specifically bought cameras that didn’t have night-vision capabilities and whatnot, because a lot of them now… can do things that the human eye can’t do… The video in some cases can capture things that the human eye can’t.”
McLaughlin emphasized that the department did not upgrade its equipment due to recent reports of alleged police brutality.
“We’re not upgrading our videos to do anything other than enhance what we’ve already been doing. For the people out there saying this is going to solve some of these perceived problems with police brutality,” he said, “[according to the U.S. Department of Justice] 99 percent of the police encounters in 2013 in the United States resulted in no force being used — 99 percent of the encounters.”
McLaughlin said the new cameras will continue to show that the department is doing the right things, while also helping document evidence.
“It’s just a piece of the pie, but it’s a piece that we didn’t have before,” he said. “This is by no means the end-all/be-all. We’re just trying to take it to the next level and trying to make life a little easier for ourselves, as far as how we store the data. Hopefully, it will continue to prove advantageous to us.”