I started my Police career with the Vernon Police Department in October of 1999, 22 years ago last month. When I started as a patrolman, video technology utilized by patrol officers was only something you heard about. Being a rural Texas farming community, we did not have the latest and greatest in the ways of technology. My first patrol car, Unit 204, was a 1994 Crown Victoria that had 188,000 miles on it when it was assigned to me and 210,000 when I turned it back in. That car was one of the oldest and most worn vehicles on the fleet, but I was proud of it. This particular vehicle did not have an in car camera system, although we had a couple of vehicles at that point that did.
My next vehicle, however, did have a in car camera system. I do not recall the brand name of this camera, but it had a large lock box in the trunk with a VCR (video cassette recorder) in it. I had to change out this VHS tape every day at the start of my shift. This camera system was my first experience with Police video systems. At the time, I remember thinking this technology was quite good. The video provided by it was extremely useful in intoxicated driver cases which I always seemed to have a knack for getting. Early in my career, I got an award from the District Attorney’s office for my frequent stops and arrests on intoxicated motorists. I saw the value in this technology early and often in my career.
Many officers did not share my affinity for this technology, however. Some of my fellow officers in my department were against it. This was for a variety of reasons. I recall a veteran officer at the time making this statement during one of our discussions on this topic. He said, “A good officer does not need video to make a good case and get a conviction”. I took this to mean that my lack of experience compared to his meant he did not need the camera to make his cases. I did not argue the point with this officer at this time as I was still new, learning and eager. I did chuckle to myself a couple of months later when I heard that my department administration had forced him into a vehicle with a camera system after a questionable use of force issue.
My department first started using the body worn cameras very early on, I believe around 2011 or 2012. At the time, we were one of the first departments in our area to start using this system. By this time, I was a Sergeant in Administration with my department. I had worked my way up the ranks with the department, first as a Corporal followed by School Resource Officer and then Patrol Sergeant. When I moved into Administration, all my prior experience had been patrol related. In this role, I was able to be involved in the research of various body camera systems as well as field testing demo units from various companies. I was immediately sold on this technology. We were progressing. I knew then, my chosen career field was going to revolve around various types of video technology from then on out.
The body worn cameras have evolved in design and technology. Our first unit was very simplistic and the video quality was okay, but not great. The first unit served its purpose, more than adequately. Three different body camera systems later, we are at our current model. This is a Getac system that works hand in hand with our in-car camera systems. All of our police vehicles, including admin, CID, SRO, etc, have these systems. The technology of this new system is vastly superior when compared to the first unit we had. The video and audio quality is top notch and it even automatically adjusts to low light situations.
Our department has even taken the video technology a step further. We now have weapon mounted camera systems. This system, Viridan Fact Duty, is a rail mounted camera that records 1080P video as well as quality audio as soon as the weapon is pulled from the holster. We use special modified duty holsters that activate these cameras once the weapon is drawn. There is no turning the camera on or off. I believe that our department was one of the first in the nation to adopt this technology. In 2019, we had an officer involved shooting while Cpl. TJ Session was attempting to take a subject into custody for sexual assault of a child warrants. In this incident, all three camera systems (body worn, in-car and gun cam) were active and played an important role. This OIS was the first ever in the United States recorded with weapon mounted video technology of this type.
I believe that most departments now do, and every department should, utilize body camera technology. Here we are seeing an obvious trend of body camera evidence being essentially required by the prosecutors in our area. Prosecutors are now depending on this technology to get convictions in a lot of cases and will even reject some cases based on video evidence or lack thereof. These video systems are not simply evidence for the prosecutors either. A body mounted camera system can and will protect both the department and the officer. By the nature of this type of work, Police Officers get a lot of complaints from the public. This video technology gives departments ways to prove or disprove the allegations made by the public. It allows department administration to review various incidents to ensure that department policy, local and state laws are both enforced and followed by the officers.
Body cameras in policing is here to stay. Any department that is not now using this technology, in my opinion, is hurting both the department and its officers. In the last ten years of using body worn cameras I have seen how much this technology has improved. I am excited to see where this technology goes in another 5 years, another 10 years. It will undoubtably continue to evolve and improve. Body Worn cameras are now and will be a fixture in law enforcement for the foreseeable future.