DENVER – Questions about the purpose of police body cameras and when their captured content should be publicly released have been renewed after the chief of police for Fort Collins said Sunday he wouldn’t release body camera video of one of his officers slamming a woman to the ground during an arrest until after an investigation.
The Fort Collins Police Department is one of a handful of Colorado law enforcement agencies that have bought body cameras for their officers, and one of few in the state that has pledged to outfit all of its officers with the technology.
FCPD Sgt. Dean Cunningham told Denver7 last week that all of the department’s officers will be outfitted with body cameras and stun guns from Taser by May. The department signed a five-year contract with Taser in December for 134 cameras and stun guns -- $885,000 of which was spent on the cameras and associated data storage on Evidence.com.
The department started its body camera program in August 2012 and was among the first agencies in the country to test the technology. It bought 10 more cameras in January 2013, and 20 more that May. Thirty more officers were issued body cameras in 2014, Cunningham said.
“Our policy has been used as a model for agencies across the country,” he told Denver7. “FCPD receives requests monthly from other agencies seeking information on how to develop and implement a camera program.”
But Fort Collins Police Chief John Hutto said Sunday that though a “publicly-available video” of one of his officers slamming a young woman to the ground who was allegedly interfering with police did “not have the context or content of the full event,” that to release the body camera video of the arrest during the investigation “absent a truly compelling reason would not be proper.”
“I am equally committed to preserving the rights of both Ms. Surat and the involved officers,” Hutto said, adding that the body camera video would be made available to the public after the investigation was complete.
The decision of when to release body camera video to the public is usually left to each agency to decide. Fort Collins has generally not released video until investigations are completed, including in the case of the police shooting of 63-year-old Jerry Jackson, which was released four months after the shooting occurred and after an internal review was complete.
FCPD officers were also accused of mis-logging some of their videos in an audit, which Cunningham at the time said was an accident and unintentional.
The Denver Police Department will soon have 1,436 body cameras, all from Taser, after a recent order of 550 cameras, which will be utilized by in-uniform officers. More than 850 officers already wear body cameras, according to DPD Commander James Henning.
It has released body camera videos as well, though those also often came after internal reviews and investigations were completed.
But the program’s implementation did not roll out easily, as Denver’s police union objected to the adoption of the body camera policy in 2015. There have also been several instances in which police body camera video from Denver officers was leaked to local media before it was released by the department.
The increased attention on police-worn body cameras has ballooned in recent years over conflicting reports from police and victims in many high-profile cases, including the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
It also comes as Taser International -- which has already cornered the body camera market in the U.S., reportedly providing body camera services to 85 percent of major cities that have adopted the cameras, according to the New York Times -- rebrands itself as “Axon” in order to further shift its business model to focus on its body cameras and Evidence.com storage system.
It announced last week that the Taser name would still be used for stun guns, but kicked off the name change with an offer to outfit law enforcement agencies nationwide with body cameras for each of their officers and a year of “premium service,” which includes cloud storage on Evidence.com.
The free offer is expected to help boost the company and could provide a small break for agencies trying to obtain body cameras that don’t currently have the funds necessary to afford them or their expensive storage options.
But Taser has also come under fire for its cozying up to law enforcement agencies regarding body cameras. A former Albuquerque police chief is under investigation by the state attorney general for an alleged no-bid contract involving Taser and the department that also involved the then-chief’s consulting for Taser.
Several Colorado law enforcement agencies told Denver7 last week they were looking in to the new offer from Axon, but did not commit to moving forward with the offer.
Some research, including a study published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, have found that use-of-force incidents drop significantly when officers wear body cameras, as do complaints against officers.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office says none of its deputies’ body cameras were provided by Taser. That also goes for the Colorado Springs Police Department. Some agencies could not be reached for comment on who their body cameras were manufactured by.
A Parker police officer’s body camera captured the moments when he shot and killed the man accused of shooting Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Detective Dan Brite last year, and a Denver officer’s camera was used to help clear a Denver officer in the deadly shooting of a 17-year-old car theft suspect.
The Department of Justice announced last year that the Denver Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and Custer County Sheriff’s Office were combined receiving approximately $210,000 in federal grant money to buy body cameras.