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Police discuss body cameras
The City of Hoover is about to join the wave of police departments across the country adding body cameras to help protect officers and aid investigations of accused misconduct.
The Hoover City Council during its meeting tonight, May 4, unanimously approved a proposal from the city purchasing director to buy 90 body cameras for the city’s uniformed police officers. The lowest acceptable bid, $77,575.20, was from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International.
On April 28, Hoover solicited bids from manufacturers of police body cameras and mailed invitations to bid to 91 vendors. Another company, Digital Ally, submitted a bid of $107,552.
The move comes as police departments nationwide are under fire after a string of high-profile incidents in which police officers faced investigations in the wake of deaths of citizens. On April 27, Baltimore was in the national spotlight after angry citizens began rioting, looting and throwing rocks at police just weeks after a black man, Freddie Gray, died from a nearly severed spine that occurred after police threw him handcuffed into a police van.
Six Baltimore police officers who had arrested Gray were indicted last Friday on charges including manslaughter in the case.
Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said the cameras will have both audio and video capabilities, and will enable the department to better evaluate how officers are performing their jobs. He said it will take about three to four weeks to order and receive the body cameras. Officers will then be trained on how to properly use them, meaning they could go into use by mid-June.
The cameras will also provide protection against frivolous lawsuits, Hoover City Councilman Gene Smith said. "I bet 99 percent of lawsuits we face are frivolous," he said.
Hoover City Councilman John Lyda said the city has always had great officers, but added body cameras are an important tool to protect the public and officers as well.
“This is a great tool to have,” Lyda said.
Hoover Police Capt. Gregg Rector said he is glad the city has reached a deal with Taser International, a company he says is recognized as a leader in the body camera field. He said Hoover has 158 employees on the police force, including 90 uniformed officers.
“This will allow us to put body cameras on all of our officers in the field,” Rector said. “It’s a win-win for both the public and our officers. It will be a good way to document officers doing things the right way. It will also help us better see evidence on the crime scenes.”
Hoover’s move to add body cameras on police comes as the U.S. Department of Justice, just days after the Baltimore clashes with police, announced it plans to launch a pilot program to expand the use of body cameras by law enforcement agencies across the country.
Under the plan, DOJ plans to provide nearly $20 million to fund body camera purchases for dozens of police departments across the country, a third of them being smaller law enforcement agencies. Another $1 million will be set aside to study the impact those body cameras have on policing.
Rector said that thanks to training, Hoover has always prided itself in its ability to put officers in the fields who do their jobs while respecting the rights of the public, including those accused of crimes. But in today’s world where police are on the spot given police officer-suspect incidents, a body camera can help assure the public when issues arise, he said.
“In this era where everybody seems to have a cell phone, we tell officers you need to act as if everything you do will be videotaped,” Rector said. “Whenever police pull up to a crime scene, it seems everybody pulls out their cameras. This will be a great help to us in being more thorough and professional in documenting the things our officers do.”
According to its website, Taser International first made a name for itself with its electrical “taser” weapons when founded in 1993. Today, the company claims its Axon body camera that Hoover Police will use has become the choice of major city police force, from Los Angeles to Cleveland and Charlotte.
Taser International says over 110,000 body-worn cameras and Taser cameras are in use nationwide, and claims that the help silence false allegations.
“Axon cameras resulted in an 87.5 percent drop in complaints against officers for the city of Rialto, California, and the Pittsburgh Police Department saw their numbers decrease by 74 percent,” Taser International says on its website. “This technology is contributing to massive savings for agencies around the world by preventing unnecessary investigations and litigation. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is priceless.”
The Mesa Police Department’s 10-month Axon camera study resulted in a 75 percent drop in use of force complaints among participating officers. The San Diego Police Department saw similar results: after their 14-month study, their use of force incidents decreased by 47 percent, Taser International says on its site.
“People on both sides of the badge stay safe when accountability is expected,” Taser International says on its website. “Body-worn cameras continue to gain momentum as the public demands greater transparency from their law enforcement agencies.”