Porter County police seeking body cams
Jul 30, 2016
VALPARAISO — The Porter County Sheriff's Department is wading into the national debate over the use of body cameras by seeking to equip each of its officers with the documenting technology.
"We think it's the right thing to do," said Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds.
The cameras will better protect both the officers and the public by providing a visual record and verification of what transpires during calls, he said.
The debate over the cameras heated up in the wake of several high-profile cases across the country of alleged police brutality caught on law enforcement and civilian cameras.
Reynolds voiced confidence in the conduct of his officers.
"It's not a secret what we do," he said.
The Hammond Police Department equipped each of its officers with body cameras last year as part of an effort to improve community relations "through improved officer accountability and transparency."
Reynolds' proposal surfaced during a Porter County Council meeting last week when officials from the department appeared seeking to secure the necessary funding from a federal drug enforcement forfeiture fund. The council tabled the request after asking for more information.
Reynolds said he will need between $40,000 and $50,000 a year to equip every officer with body cameras. That price, which includes the hardware, software and cloud storage, could come down after the program is in place.
There is about $109,000 available through the forfeiture fund for the effort, he said.
The department is working on developing policies and procedures involving the cameras, he said, and will be testing out a couple of different types of equipment before choosing a preferred make. He hopes to have the entire proposal together by late August or September to ask the council for funding approval.
The cameras in question are worn by officers on the front of their uniforms and are designed to capture footage of their activities, Reynolds said. All the officers at the department are in favor of the cameras, including members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, he said.
Local defense attorneys have questioned the absence of cameras in police cars over the years considering the large amount of federal dollars that were directed back to area departments for their purchase.
Reynolds, who helped introduce the technology locally as chief of police in Portage, said it was discovered that vehicle cameras did not hold up well to the changing temperatures in the area.
"They kept breaking down," he said.
While some officers initially distrusted the use of those cameras as a form of "big brother" watching, they later came to like them, Reynolds said.
It is Reynolds' hope that each officer in his department will be equipped with the newer body cameras this year.
Portage chief: Too many unanswered questions on body cameras
December 05, 2015
PORTAGE | Portage Police Chief Troy Williams said this week he hasn't ruled out the use of body cameras for his department in the future.
But, he said, there are too many unanswered questions at present for the city to jump on the latest trend in law enforcement.
"It's not something you can rush into," said Williams, adding the issues run from privacy concerns to funding to equipment reliability.
The discussion of whether Portage should invest in body cameras for police officers arose at this week's City Council meeting. Councilman Matt Scheuer introduced an ordinance that would required the city to find funding and initiate a program by 2019.
Scheuer said he introduced the ordinance upon the request of constituents. He said he believed the use of body cameras could improve the relationship between police and the community, reduce frivolous lawsuits and and protect both officers and those with whom they interact.
Both Williams and the Fraternal Order of Police objected to the ordinance, which ultimately failed.
Williams and the FOP, in its letter, said they weren't objecting to the possible use of cameras, but to the process and not being included in the discussion.
"There is a distinct process to this thing. We need to have the conversation and, in the end, we may see it is something we want to do, we may not," Williams said.
Williams said he has been researching body cameras and the issues involved with using them on a police department.
One, he said, is privacy, an issue that is currently being studied by a state legislative committee.
"When do we turn them on and when do we turn them off? Are they on an entire shift? What if we respond to a call involving a medical issue? What about HIPAA (medical privacy) laws? What if a call involves a juvenile?" Williams said about what he feels are unanswered questions about the use of body cameras.
The bipartisan state legislative committee has been taking testimony on several of the issues, according to recent news reports. The goal is to introduce legislation covering several of the issues in January when the state Legislature convenes for its next session.
Williams said there is also the cost factor and, with limited funding, prioritizing what the department needs. There is also the issue of looking at potential federal grants to fund body cameras.
"In 2018, we need to narrow band (communication radios) again. Right now we can't talk to Lake County. That is something that needs to be addressed," said Williams, adding he believes it is more of a priority.
Hammond is the only city in the region that has initiated the use of body cameras for its officers. The cost there was about $158,000 for equipment, licensing and video storage.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spent months testing and assessing equipment during a pilot program this summer, but said they couldn't afford to outfit their department with the devices at an estimated cost of $2 million, according to an article in Police magazine.
Williams said there is also the issue of equipment reliability, pointing to dash cameras the department has used. He said they've used several brands, each time getting promises of reliability, but falling short of expectations.
He also disputes the claim that his department needs cameras at this point, saying in most recent lawsuits filed against the department, cameras wouldn't have made a difference.
"If someone is aware there is a camera, will it lessen their behavior? Maybe. Most complaints we get are that an officer has been rude," said Williams, adding in those situations the cameras could benefit the officer.
"We really have to weigh the pros and the cons and the expense," he said.
Portage police body cameras out of picture, for now
December 02, 2015 - 9:16AM
The Portage City Council nixed a proposed ordinance from an outgoing councilman to equip police officers with body cameras by the end of 2019.
Matt Scheuer, D-5th, said Tuesday he introduced the ordinance because his constituents asked for it.
Police Chief Troy Williams opposed Scheuer's proposed ordinance saying Scheuer put it together without police input, bypassing the ordinance committee. Williams, however, said he's not necessarily opposed to police wearing body cameras.
"It's reckless and irresponsible the way this ordinance came up. I was not contacted and I don't believe the FOP was contacted… we're talking about making policy for the police department, but nobody from the police department was contacted," Williams said.
The council rejected the ordinance by a 6-1 vote, but did agree to discuss body cameras at an upcoming ordinance committee meeting next year.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Modesto said she attended an Indiana Association of Cities and Towns conference recently and learned it could cost $200,000 to $300,000 annually to store the video from all the body cameras.
Scheuer said the ordinance wasn't an attempt to micro-manage. He said they would lead to a decline in civilian complaints, improve relations with the public, and aid police in investigations and prevent frivolous lawsuits. Scheuer said he wanted to bring the issue up before he left the council. He was defeated in the May primary.
The Portage FOP Lodge 145 sent a letter to the council saying it hopes the decision on body cameras won't be rushed and include consultation with police.
Williams said he doesn't receive many complaints about Portage officers. "They're professional," he said. "I don't know if I have a huge issue with telling a gang banger... to get out of our city."
Body camera idea fizzles in Portage
December 01, 2015
PORTAGE | The idea of outfitting city police officers with body cameras drew intense discussion Tuesday night by Portage City Council and administration members.
Outgoing City Councilman Matt Scheuer introduced an ordinance requiring the city to fund and initiate the use of body cameras by city police officers by 2019. Scheuer, who told the council at its November meeting he would be bringing an ordinance to the December meeting, said he introduced the ordinance at the request of residents.
Scheuer said he believes the use of body cameras would improve relations between police and the community, reduce frivolous lawsuits and improve civil behavior.
The measure was voted down 6-1.
Portage Police Chief Troy Williams called the introduction of the ordinance "reckless and irresponsible." Williams said the ordinance was introduced without any discussion with him or his department.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 145 also sent a letter to the council saying it was concerned about the proposal and the council dictating policy without any input from the department.
Scheuer said he heard nothing from anyone in the last month about wanting to have any discussions about the proposal and that the council's ordinance committee did not meet in the last month for him to present the measure to the committee.
Outgoing councilman Ted Uzelac, a city police officer, objected to the idea of "creating policy through law" and fulfilling a political agenda.
While the council denied the proposal, Mayor James Snyder asked that the proposal for body cameras be forwarded to the council's ordinance committee for additional consideration.
Police body cameras not the focus in Porter County
August 28, 2015 - 9:56PM
More than a year after highly publicized claims of police brutality began to unfold across the nation, law enforcement officials in Porter County are grappling with whether to purchase body cameras because of the expense of storing the data, among other concerns.
The Porter County Sheriff's Department purchased three cameras, known as body cams, about a year ago, though the timing was coincidental and not tied to events on the national scene, an official there said. The Portage and Valparaiso departments are still considering the matter.
"This has been a topic. We've talked to the sheriff about where does the money come from. Are there grants we can get?" said Jeff Biggs, commander of the sheriff's department. "There's a cost to even storing all the data."
The department wants to involve Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel in developing a policy for when officers should turn the cameras on and how long to store the data, but that discussion hasn't started because officials aren't sure the sheriff's department has the funding to purchase the cameras.
The department tried a few body cams out and some were bulky but more durable, while streamlined models were not as durable, Biggs said. The department purchased three of the bulkier ones about a year ago for $900 apiece.
The cameras sit in the center of an officer's chest and are turned on by a push button on the officer's belt. The cameras go on during traffic stops, warrant arrests and domestic violence calls – times when officers might be most vulnerable.
"Right now our guys have the discretion to turn the cameras on and off," Biggs said. The data is being stored on the external hard drives of two computers and none of the data is being deleted because it's only from three cameras.
If the department were to outfit all 45 of its patrol officers with body cams, Biggs said, it would have to come up with a better data storage plan.
Data storage also was an issue when the department had dashboard cameras in patrol cars, though those were vulnerable to extreme temperatures because much of the equipment was mounted in the cars' trunks. Potholes and rough railroad tracks also shook things up, making them prone to breakdowns, Biggs said.
The body cams are more durable and the department is looking into cloud storage for the data.
"This is something we plan on outfitting more officers with. It's a matter of funding," and coming up with a policy on usage and data storage, Biggs said.
The body cams offer a broader picture, literally, of what's going on, and officers can return to the station and easily view a digital recording of a call, Biggs said. "It's just about watching technology and what tools can help us do our job."
The Valparaiso Police Department has not made a decision on whether to go with body cams, said Sgt. Michael Grennes, that department's public information officer.
"We currently are not using them. We have looked into them and are still in the process of determining what we are going to do," he said. "We have tested them briefly with officers, but at this time we do not have any."
Myriad considerations go into deciding whether to purchase the cameras, said Portage Police Chief Troy Williams. Those include how to pay for them and maintenance costs; who gets them; chain of custody; privacy issues; how well the cameras record; and whether the department wants them for training, to check adherence to procedures, or because of complaints about use of force.
"For a department that routinely gets use-of-force complaints and is distrusted by their community, cameras would likely be a way to help some of that," he said. "We do not have those complaints and I believe we have a great relationship with our community."
His department had dashboard cameras about 10 years ago but had the same problems with them that the sheriff's department had. Body cams are something the department might look into for the future, he said, but they're not an imminent concern.
"There's a lot of factors the general public wouldn't necessarily know about that need to be researched," he said.