Denver police officers to wear body cameras; chief says it will create transparency with community

Move to use body cameras bring praise and concern

DENVER - Denver's police chief says he plans to require patrol officers to wear body cameras starting next year.

Officers working in LoDo are already wearing the cameras as part of a six-month pilot program and study by the University of Cambridge. A similar study conducted in Rialto, California, showed massive declines in police use of force and citizen complaints when police used body cams.

Denver Chief Robert White said Wednesday that the program has been successful, and he plans to purchase 800 cameras for about $1.5 million, some of that money coming from grants.

For the pilot program, Taser International provided 125 cameras and storage for video data at no cost to the citizens of Denver, officials said.

The manufacturer's website shows how the cameras work in low light, on the run and in slow motion. The cameras have a nearly 180-degree viewing angle and can store up to 18 hours of video.

Chief White said the goal is transparency and acknowledged there are questionable situations between officers and citizens every week in the city.

"From my perspective this is really a no-brainer," said White.

White said the cameras hold officers accountable and clear up conflicts and questions.

"There's a couple of instances where people made allegations about the officer's conduct, suggesting that it's been inappropriate, and after reviewing the cameras we found out that's not the case," said White.

Officers are able to turn off the cameras. White said the department's policy is that an officer must turn on the camera when they are with a citizen in an official capacity.

"Which is barring mitigating circumstances, almost any time an officer has an interaction with a citizen in a formal environment." said White. "Responding to a call, making a traffic stop -- they're required to activate the body cam. It can be de-activated in very mitigating circumstances and it should be noted they cannot delete the information."

"What would happen if a camera was off when it should have been on?" asked 7NEWS Reporter Lindsay Watts.

"We talk about that on a regular basis. Officers are required to review the policy and abide by the policy. And barring mitigating circumstances, they should be held accountable for that," said White.

White said officers have to be mindful about going into hospitals and other situations where cameras should not be rolling due to privacy issues.

"Are there police departments that require cameras to be rolling at all times?" asked Watts.

"No -- it's just too cost prohibitive. It's already a very expensive endeavor," said Commander Magen Dodge. "There's not a single department that has constant rolling of body cameras, that we've come across at least."

White said police will not release the camera footage to the public under state open records laws.

"The footage of the video camera will be and should be public record," said attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai, whose firm has represented several excessive force victims.

While Mohamedbhai views the implementation of the cameras as a positive move, it will not stop questionable behavior on its own.

"Only law enforcement officers can stop the use of excessive force.  Body cameras will simply capture the event.  But unless there is serious training that's running concurrent with this body camera program, there won't be change," he said.

7NEWS found the technology is already demonstrating its value.

A motorcyclist accused of seriously injuring a pedestrian walking in a crosswalk during a hit-and-run in LoDo on Aug. 3 agreed to talk to police. An officer noted he had his body camera recording when the suspect "admitted to me he was driving when he hit a pedestrian on his motorcycle," according the police probable cause statement supporting the man's arrest.  

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