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PPD body camera program sees success

BY KAT RUSSELL krussell@paducahsun.com

I

t's been nearly a year since the Paducah Police Department initiated its body camera program, and Assistant Chief David White believes it's proven to be a positive addition.

"I would definitely characterize the program as a success," he said. "We have had very few complications and the one we have had, we've been able to resolve easily."

White said the complications that have arisen since the cameras hit the street were the typical issues one would expect when working with a new technology.

"We've had to send one or two cameras back because they were either broken or malfunctioning, but they were replaced without any problems," he said. "And in the beginning, we had issues with some of the officers forgetting to turn their cameras on right away, but that's normal when you're trying to develop a new habit."

Along with deployment of the cameras, White said the PPD's higher-ups also initiated a "quality-assurance program" in which supervisors randomly review footage and evaluate the videos and the officer's conduct and use of the camera.

"That has been very positive," he said. "We've seen a few instances of an officer maybe missing the moment, but there's of course a learning curve involved whenever you start using a new technology. Overall I'd say the introduction of the cameras has gone smoothly and everybody has been fairly receptive to having them."

The Paducah City Commission approved the purchase of 65 body cameras and associated software for $105,540 after a presentation by Chief Brandon Barnhill in September of last year.

The chief said the cost was partially offset by a $10,912 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Accountability Grant.

After months of testing and evaluating different models, the department settled on cameras made by Taser International, a company known for its non-lethal stun devices commonly carried by officers.

The cameras cost $399 apiece.

White said the department negotiated a five-year contract with the company, which covered not only the purchase of the devices but two upgrades as well.

As the devices were being considered, department heads expressed some concern that the cameras might adversely affect officers' relationship with the community and deter people from approaching and talking to them. Additionally, the body cameras raised privacy concerns for those being recorded.

Barnhill said so far those issues have not come up.

"The only issue that I can speak to, that I know has been curbed, is the behavior of those in the community whose previous behavior was not that pleasant," he said. "Either they know, they have read or seen on TV that body cameras are out there, or they look at the officer and they notice the recognizable difference that a camera is there, and their behavior is much different."

Additionally, Barnhill said some officers have taken it upon themselves to alert citizens to the fact they are being recorded. In a few of those instances, the chief said, a marked change in behavior can be seen once the person is aware of the camera.

"So there's been a positive effect in that we have not had adversarial conversations and relationships with the community as much as we did prior to the implementation of the devices," he said.

Barnhill also noted the cameras have already helped to sort out two complaints against officers.

"We have had two internal complaints, and those were very quickly resolved when the (footage) was produced to them and showed the (situation) contrary to their complaint," he said. "And one of those (complaining) individuals, we have received approval from the prosecuting attorney to charge that person for a false allegation, and we will continue that practice as long as allegations can be proven to be false."

White said the cameras have proven to be useful tools that give the whole, unbiased picture when an officer receives a complaint or someone questions the actions of law enforcement officers.

"I think a majority of our officers see the cameras as a beneficial tool," he said. "They've become accustomed to using the camera, and they all seem supportive of having them."

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