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Body cameras provide another set of eyes for SPD officers

Cameras04Since June, most Seminole Police Department officers have used miniature video cameras that attach to uniforms. The latest tool in law enforcement – combined with dashboard and back-seat cameras already in cruisers – is another example of the department embracing new technology.

“This is an opportunity to be transparent and show the public how we react and handle things,” said SPD Chief of Police William Latchford. “Internally, it gives us the opportunity to see how we are doing and see our training needs.”

SPD has 97 body cameras and 77 in-car cameras. All but 15 uniformed officers use body cameras now, but the department hopes to eventually equip every uniformed officer. SPD purchased the cameras with grants from the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“This device has taken the guesswork out of what people say,” SPD Officer Dennis Stemen said. “It’s great for documenting evidence, and it cuts through a lot of the exaggeration and lying. It tells the truth.”

Officers turn on the cameras whenever they exit their vehicles to interact with the public. About the size of an officer’s badge, the cameras are worn on the front of the shirt.

“Everyone has cell phones and everyone is recording,” Latchford said. “We need to embrace it. Cameras show all the things officers tolerate and how they handle situations. Everyone realizes they are on camera.”

In response to media attention and to an online petition signed by about 150,000 people, the Obama administration gave its support for the use of body cameras by police. A Department of Justice report cites evidence that both police and civilians behave better when they know cameras are in use.

The results of a study about the cameras by the Rialto, California Police Department showed the department had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers during the first year of use. Also, officers used force nearly 60 percent less often compared to the previous year.

“There’s no lying on camera – a video speaks a thousand words,” Latchford said. “It assures we are accountable to ourselves and to the public.”

Officers also use the video to help with writing reports. They can replay it to add more detail.

Latchford said use of the cameras has discouraged some people from filing complaints against officers and others to withdraw them.

As with any new technology, legal challenges relating to the cameras will come before the courts. Latchford said the department will review case law to assure it remains in compliance.

“We’re excited about it,” he said. “We are one of the first departments in the state to have officers equipped with cameras. This is a tool that can help tell the story of an incident.”


Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at