A neighboring department has outfitted a limited number of its officers with on-body video cameras, and deputies in Moore County could be using similar technology by the end of the year, said Sheriff Neil Godfrey.
“It is time for us to move forward in technology in that area, and that’s where most law enforcement agencies are headed,” Godfrey said.
The department is reviewing and field-testing several cameras in hopes of selecting one by the end of September and then issuing them to its 30 on-road deputies in November, Godfrey said, adding that he money for the initial purchase of the camera would come from drug forfeiture funds.
Last week, the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office issued portable body cameras to its six school resource officers, and another nine cameras will be put to use by the department. The cameras were first deployed Friday night at a high school football game.
“Whoever works anything with the schools will have one,” Hoke Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said of the body cameras, which cost $300 each.
The Hoke department has utilized $175,000 from drug forfeitures to purchase the body cameras and 25 in-car cameras. The purchase, combined with the five in-car cameras that were purchased a few years ago with grant money, will allow the department to outfit 25 patrol cars and five other department vehicles with cameras.
Peterkin said he has been exploring the option to add cameras to his department for several months. The idea wasn’t well-received at first.
“A few months ago we got some sour faces, but in light of what happened (in Ferguson, Mo.) they have come back and said this is something we have to have.”
The cameras clamp on the officers’ lapel or wrist and will be tamper-proof, so that the officers can’t delete anything from the camera.
“Having this technology can help take the ‘he said, she said,’ out of the equation,” Peterkin said. “That’s what our goal is, to minimize all the doubt.”
The cameras, he said, can also be a good training tool for officers.
“Sometime our officers do wrong, sometime they do bad, sometime the persons they are dealing with do wrong,” Peterkin said. “Bottom line, we want to see what we are doing so we can go back to training if we need to. The camera will show us what we need to work on.”
Moore County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars are not equipped with in-car cameras.
Ideally, Godfrey said, it would be best to have the portable cameras to pair with in-vehicle ones, but the vehicle cameras, which can cost between $5,000 and $7,000, are cost-prohibitive right now. He didn’t rule out adding in-vehicle cameras in the future.
Godfrey said on-body cameras “are a more cost-effective alternative,” but they aren’t without issues. Having the cameras brings up other details that will have to be worked out, such as training officers to properly use them, creating a policy for their use, and determining a protocol for storing video and for how long.
Most law enforcement departments in Moore County have in-vehicle cameras, but no department has on-body cameras.
Carthage police officers have been testing an on-body camera for several weeks, and Chief Bart Davis said overall the results have been good, but that having the camera isn’t always well-received.
“Some appreciate the fact that they have the camera system there, because they are confident in the fact that they are not going to have any issues or problems, very professional, very respectful, polite, so they are not really that concerned,” Davis said. “We have others that maybe don’t feel as confident about being able to maintain under pressure when somebody starts pushing their buttons, or they are a little bit intimidated by it.”
Davis said he hopes his officers will understand that the portable on-body cameras can be a great tool.
“All in all, it tends to force them to make the effort, and it just makes them better officers,” Davis said. “Knowing that it is there, that it is recording, it kind of forces them to be more patient, more understanding, and to take their time, and that’s what we want.”
Southern Pines has looked at body cameras in the past, but is not looking to add them.
“It is not something that we are currently looking at,” said Capt. Charles Campbell. “But it’s not something I am going to say we’re not going to look at in the future.”
One of the concerns Campbell voiced was the evolving technology and the desire to provide officers with quality, long-lasting equipment.
“These systems are pretty expensive,” he said. “They are not cheap, so you want something that will stand the test of time, and is going to give you the capabilities you need 10 years down the road.”
When the time is right, however, in-car cameras in Southern Pines patrol cars, like other departments, will be compatible with a line of on-body cameras, which will allow easier software interface and data storage for evidence purposes.
Pinehurst Police Chief Earl Phipps said his department has been examining adding on-body cameras for its officers for the past year-and-a-half.
“We’ve been actually field testing and kicking the tires of cameras to decide what we want to do,” Phipps said. “We don’t want to rush and get something that doesn’t cover what we are looking for it to cover, which is as close to that officer’s point of view, what they’re seeing that we can see.”
He said his department has field-tested a couple of different models, seeking one that is the “best fit” for the department, that is comfortable to wear, and that is durable.
“In low-light conditions, how is it going to operate?” he said. “In a struggle, what is the point of view going to be, and how durable will it be? The good old- fashion field-testing with that stuff is how you figure that stuff out, and then you have to figure out what’s your best fit.”
Phipps is looking at adding the cameras in next year’s budget. The department currently has in-car cameras.
“It would be nice to just go to Walmart or Best Buy and get 20 cameras and give them to our officers, but it’s not that simple,” he said.
Aberdeen Police Chief Tim Wenzel said his department “will eventually go to body cameras” once the department’s entire fleet of patrol vehicles is outfitted with cameras. All of the patrol cars have cameras, but the supervisor’s vehicles don’t, Wenzel said.
Whispering Pines Chief Domonic Campbell said his department, which has an in-car camera and video storage system, is waiting for that company to complete the development of a body camera that will integrate with the current system.
“You don’t want to jump on the first thing that comes out,” Campbell said. “You want to give everybody time to try it and get the bugs worked out of it a little while before you jump in and get it.”
Vass Police Chief Brian Deel said the on-body cameras would be extremely beneficial to his department. They have tested a couple of cameras and “it is something they are definitely going to add” in the future.
“For the cost, I don’t understand why more agencies don’t have them,” Deel said.
Wenzel said the company that makes the in-vehicle cameras have the capability to interface with body cameras, which is something the department considered when buying the in-car cameras.
“Once the entire fleet is outfitted, we will transition to those (body cameras), and they will work along with the car camera,” Wenzel said.
The body cameras are not in this year’s budget, Wenzel said.
The issue of on-body cameras for police has recently become a hot topic in the aftermath of a fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo., in which accounts of what happened widely varied.
All the representatives from the departments interviewed for this story said they have been considering adding on-body cameras months, even years before the fatal shooting in Ferguson.