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Focus on transparency: Orange Park Police officers wearing body-worn cameras

By Don Coble don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 1/26/23

ORANGE PARK – If you’re caught speeding or just need directions, interactions with Orange Park Police Department officers are now being recorded.

The agency became the first in Clay County to …

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Focus on transparency: Orange Park Police officers wearing body-worn cameras


Posted

ORANGE PARK – If you’re caught speeding or just need directions, interactions with Orange Park Police Department officers are now being recorded.

The agency became the first in Clay County to outfit the department with body-worn cameras that are mounted in the middle of their vest.

“Body cams were on everybody's radar back when the George Floyd thing went on,” said Chief Gary Goble. “It was really, really big, but we couldn't afford it. They were quite expensive and we worried about the public records request and all the video and storage and all that kind of stuff.”

Now it’s part of the department-issued gear, just like a gun, handcuffs, Tasers and badges.

“We began testing beginning of 2022 with different companies and looking at what everybody had to offer, the ease of the software and the ease of the officers use day-to-day what applications come with the products,” said Lt. Cody Monroe. “We made the choice to go with Axon and then we rolled out most of the department and got started about October or November. All patrol is rolled out and using body cameras. Our school resource officers have body cameras and pretty much the whole department. Everybody's giving us really good feedback and learning how to use the applications that go with it.”

OPPD received money from the Town Council’s American Rescue Plan funds to offset the $229,000 pricetag for equipment and video storage for the next five years.

While most believe body-worn cameras are used to keep law enforcement from stepping outside the law, Monroe said his department also uses them for evidence gathering and training.

“We've had some good kind of investigative success stories to where one of our officers might check out a suspicious person at nighttime and their body cam captures that person and what they're wearing, who they are and what they’re going,” he said. “Then that same person later that night or maybe prior to the contact with law enforcement either in our area has committed a crime, and now we have video of what they look like that we can compare.

“Yes, we identify this person, this is what they're wearing and they're on camera wherever breaking into a car or whatever. So we've had a couple of success stories whereby a camera provided evidence to make cases against folks who commit crimes.”

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, the main reasons local police and sheriff's offices acquired body-worn cameras were to improve officer safety, increase evidence quality, reduce civilian complaints and reduce agency liability.

Three officers with the Green Cove Springs Police Department were outfitted with body-worn cameras a week ago as part of a test program. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office is pouring through camera proposals. The cost of putting a camera on deputies could be as much as $4 million-to-$6 million a year, Sheriff Michelle Cook said.

Cameras certainly create transparency. Monroe said his officers generally keep their cameras on during their shifts, and the only exceptions are when they make a personal telephone call or use the restroom.

OPPD cameras also come with automatic triggers that are built into an officer’s holster and Taser. A magnet inside the holster makes sure the camera is operational when the current is broken after the gun is pulled. Tasers come with the same safeguards.

“The Orange Park Police Department is committed to ensuring its citizens receive the best possible law enforcement service and protections. Body-worn cameras have been demonstrated to be of value in the prosecution of traffic and criminal offenses, gathering of evidence, protecting officers from false allegations, training and to ensure transparency of law enforcement activity,” OPPD said.

“We’ll get a complaint come in that an officer was rude or this officer did this or did that,” Goble said. “We look at the video and that usually shuts that down. The body camera makes a lot of those go away.”

Video taken by body-worn cameras is stored by a third party.

“It has made a big difference in the number of things in our evidence room,” Goble said.

Video also can be a helpful tool in solving – and prosecuting – a case. Officers then link their report to the video.

“The officers can make a more accurate report of the crime scene or the crime that occurred because they have their body cam footage to go back on a review before they even write the report,” Monroe said. “So I think, in that sense, it's helped just make our job a little bit easier.”