NEWBERRY — The City of Newberry Police Department has officially begun using body-mounted cameras, according to Police Chief Roy McClurkin.
McClurkin said South Carolina mandated in March 2015 that all police departments were going to have to implement body cameras. The Newberry Police Department developed a policy to submit to the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy staff attorney.
Once approved, body cameras were tested.
“We decided to go with Vista by Watch Guard,” McClurkin said. “We found that they were very durable and worked the way we needed them to.”
The city’s police department also uses Watch Guard in-car cameras and McClurkin said he wanted their officers to have body cameras that were compatible with them.
To purchase the cameras, the city submitted an application for $74,000 through the state for the funding to implement both the body cameras and a server system for storage of the video. In turn, McClurkin said the state only allocated the city $48,000 for cameras.
“We had to do some creative thinking through the budget and were able to come up with the additional funding for storage in the form of a server for the actual body camera footage,” McClurkin said.
After securing the money from the state, 30 cameras were purchased for city officers. McClurkin said officers then went through extensive training sessions to train officers in the use of the cameras and the policies for them.
Each city officer has their own body camera assigned to them, as well as a charger, McClurkin said. The policy for the cameras dictates when an officer must turn the camera on including during traffic stops, when an officer encounters suspicious vehicles or persons, all arrests and all uses of force incidents.
“It should be activated when responding to a disturbance, disorderly calls, motor vehicle accidents and calls involving emotionally or mentally disturbed subjects,” McClurkin said.
Policy also dictates what footage must be kept and for how long. Any non-investigative, non-arrest or routine incidents that were not reported must only be kept on file for a period of 15 days, McClurkin said. Any other circumstances need to be kept until a case is disposed of.
Each camera holds up to nine hours of footage before it must be docked in the police department where footage is downloaded to the secure server.
McClurkin said command staff is able to go through the footage should there be a problem. Each officer can look at their footage only, but it cannot be altered in any way. The actual footage from the body-worn cameras, McClurkin said is not a public record and cannot be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Having body cameras benefits both the public and the city’s police officers by everyone being held accountable, McClurkin said.
“Interactions are recorded so the officer and the public have to be accountable,” McClurkin said.
McClurkin said the cameras can also be used to capture evidence needed in court and can ensure accuracy of victims’ and witness statements.
“We feel that body-worn cameras will be an invaluable tool to our department,” said City Manager Matt DeWitt. “What the cameras provide is an unbiased third-party account and this will help reduce the amount of questions and better protect everyone involved in police related encounters.”