Puma Press

Officer Orwell Will Soon Arrive At a Precinct Near You.

R. Scott Zikmanis, Reporter, Puma Press

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Police, and those who interact with them, should all better mind their P’s and Q’s as the number of Phoenix officers equipped with body cameras will soon double and may eventually increase over 600 percent.

The number of body cameras worn by officers of the City of Phoenix Police Department will soon swell as a pilot program that began with approximately 50 cameras in the department’s Maryvale Estrella Mountain precinct will soon grow and eventually cover each of the department’s seven precincts. Beginning in 2011 the Phoenix Police Department and Arizona State University have been awarded multiple grants in order to field and study the effects of body cameras on policing. The majority of the cameras have been used in the Maryvale Estrella Mountain precinct in South Phoenix.

Of the future of police body cameras in the Phoenix Police department, spokesman Sgt. Trent Crump stated that about 150 cameras are currently being used, and that number would soon double as the department was awarded another federal grant in September 2015. In addition to the Maryvale Estrella Mountain precinct cameras are also currently used by the department’s crisis intervention contact team members, a team of officers specially trained to deal with the mentally ill. Crump stated that one of the most challenging issues for police body cameras, and its associated technology, is not actually buying and deploying the cameras; it’s putting together the infrastructure and establishing policies regarding retention, release and use in court. Crump further stated that body cameras would be discussed at length in the April 12th Phoenix City Council meeting and that the current plan is to expand the number of cameras to 1,000 cameras for the 2,700 officer force.

A December 2014 report released by ASU titled “Evaluating the Impact of Officer Worn Body Cameras in the Phoenix Police Department” found that officers wearing body cameras had a marked increase in the number of arrests and, more importantly, the number of complaints filed against officers wearing cameras that were, after review, determined to be founded dropped more than 50 percent.

The report found that one of the most challenging aspects of the body camera program is integrating the massive amounts of recorded data with the prosecutor’s office and ensuring chain of custody for data is maintained. Prosecutors often complained about the amount of time it took to review footage.

Overall, the report found that although a citywide police body camera would be costly, the pilot program did have a positive effect on policing when deployed. Increased numbers of arrests, fewer complaints and even fewer founded complaints were all considered benefits to the program. While some issues were identified, specifically how to better integrate prosecutors and overcoming officers’ reluctance, further training and policy could address those concerns.

Quite soon, all Phoenix police patrol officers may be recording every contact between officers and the public they serve. Almost every study on the issue has found that police body cameras lead to a more accountable, efficient and, most importantly, transparent department that is better able to serve and protect their citizenry. As issues, such as the technological storage, indexing, protection and retrieval and legal chain of custody, discovery, and public release are identified, most will be addressed through new police and prosecutor’s office policies. The demonstrated benefits, such as increased arrests and vastly fewer substantiated complaints against officers, vastly outweigh any reluctance on the part of officers or city officials. So, in the end, should you see the flashing red and blues behind you, remember: license, registration, insurance, and sit up straight and behave.

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Officer Orwell Will Soon Arrive At a Precinct Near You.