MODESTO (CBS13) — The Ferguson, Missouri, officer-involved shooting death of an unarmed black teenager has the courts and law enforcement asking how they can get facts when both sides tell very different stories.
The Modesto Police Department is one of a growing number of law enforcement agencies turning to body cameras to protect themselves and ensure accountability in the force.
Every Modesto officer who works enforcement such as, patrol, traffic, narcotics, and detectives, are required to wear a small camera on his or her shoulder at the start of the shift.
Modesto Police had patrol car dash cameras until the camera manufacturer went out of business. It switched to body cameras in 2012.
“The car camera only captures video where the car is facing,” said Officer Scott Nelson, who works in the traffic division.
Body cameras go where the officer goes. The department said it has greatly reduced civilian complaints against officers.
“We tell them we’re going to refer back to the video of the incident,” said Lt. Brian Findlen. “A lot of times that’s where the complaint ended and we have seen people retract their complaints.”
The cameras are active, but buffering until the officer taps the pocket receiver twice to record. By policy, officers are required to record all interactions.
“It actually goes back 30 seconds, captures that, and then moves forward from that point,” said Findlen.
Police said there is no expectation of privacy while talking with a law enforcement officer, so the cameras also record audio.
Modesto Officer said they prefer to wear the cameras to help keep accountability. Cellphone video captured by civilians often only record the climax of an incident.
“People bring in videos saying ‘Here’s the incident that occurred,’ but those are sometimes taken out of context,” said Findlen.
“I think it just gives us a little more protection, especially when we go to court,” said Nelson. “If there’s any question about what we did, we have it captured on video.”
The downside is it doesn’t record well inside the patrol car.
“It records a lot of steering wheel time,” said Nelson.
Every camera is docked at the end of the shift to charge and automatically downloaded to a server to save video.