West Michigan police department using body cameras

Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-18 18:58:30-04

LOWELL, Mich. -- As tensions continue in Ferguson, Mo. and uncertainty remains over just want exactly happened in the death of Mike Brown, the conversation of police using body cameras is back into the spotlight.

Thousands of agencies across the country use them, and now a petition with more than 40,000 supporters is circulating online calling for a law to require police to use body cameras.

The Lowell Police Department just started using the cameras last October.

Chief Steven Bukala said that just in the past few months he’s seen citizen complaints go down.  It’s a point of view perspective with audio and video, the camera hooked on to the officer's uniform on their chest.

Bukala says the department has four of them and their policy requires officers to wear one on every call from a traffic stop to a domestic dispute. Bukala says as soon as they are dispatched officers activate them and keep it rolling from start to finish.

In 2012 a controlled study was done on 70 officers in a town in California. After 12 months, complaints against police officers dropped by more than 80 percent and use of force fell by nearly 60 percent.

Bukala says the video is available through the Freedom of Information Act and is admissible in court; he says it’s an evidence collecting tool they use every day.

For instance, during one situation they were able to refer to the video after a woman denied making a statement, but the audio and video showed in fact she did.

“I had one person in particular say that the officer was aggressive and hostile towards the complainant's daughter. I invited her to come in and view the video. When she found out the entire incident was not only caught on in-car camera video but point-of-view video, she bothered not to come in,” Bukala said.

“We understand that in this day and age we are going to be recorded whether by our own equipment or a cell phone in the middle of the incident. We want the entire incident on recording with audio so we can get an accurate portrayal of what happened, not just someone’s point of view,” he said.

Bukala says the videos are also good for training purposes. The devices they have run about $400 a piece, paid for by their drug forfeiture money. The video, if an arrest is made, will be held until a case makes its way through court and if no arrest is made it will be purged from the system after six months.

The ACLU says body cameras can be a win-win, but only if they are used in a framework of strong policies without becoming a system for routine surveillance.

For more information about the California study: