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Police Department Finishing Body Camera Rollout, Hopes Cops Turn Them On More Often

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By the time spring arrives, the Dallas Police Department will have completed the plan to equip 1,000 of its officers with body cameras. According to Dallas Assistant Police Chief Paul Stokes, almost 800 cameras are currently in the field, with the last 200 expected to arrive at the department sometime in January or February.

DPD announced its initiative, which followed up on a pilot program and a longstanding policy allowing officers to buy their own cameras, in the wake of high-profile police shootings, including the June 2014 shooting of Jason Harrison by Dallas police. In that case, an officer’s personal body camera recorded the shooting. A Dallas County Grand Jury saw the video and voted not to indict the officers involved in the shooting, John Rogers and Andrew Hutchins.

At the time, then-Dallas Police Chief David Brown asked the Dallas City Council for enough money to give 200 cops cameras every year for the next five years. The goal, Brown said, was to equip about half of the department’s 2,200 officers with cameras, increasing the likelihood that there would be a camera at every incident involving Dallas police personnel.  Thanks to money from the state and federal grants, DPD managed to complete its project about three years early.

Last year, Brown said an anticipated push back from frontline officers did not occur. “Apparently the millennials we’re hiring had a different view of things than their 50-year-old union bosses,” he told the Observer . “They clamor for wearing body cameras.”

So far, Stokes said, officers have uploaded about 33 terabytes of video to the department’s cloud-based evidence locker. Those videos, which have been tagged and annotated by officers in the field using a smartphone-like device, are kept for 30 days before being deleted if they aren’t part of an investigation or marked as important for any other reason.

Officers equipped with cameras are recording about one hour of their shift on the cameras. That's about half the national average. The reason for the disparity, Stokes said, is that officers haven’t grown accustomed to turning the cameras on and off when confronted with an interaction that should be recorded. It’s about muscle memory, he said.

“For most agencies that start out [with body cameras] it’s the same,” Stokes said. “As officers progress in the program we get more.”

The camera is supposed to be turned on whenever an officer has an adversarial interaction with the public. If an officer is doing something like eating lunch, talking to a supervisor or blocking traffic, his or her camera should not be in use, Stokes said.

Now that DPD has its cameras, it will look for new ways to use them. Dallas Interim Police Chief David Pughes said Monday that the department is in talks with the district attorney’s office to use the cameras for expanded evidence collection during domestic violence calls.

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