To foster trust and accountability, Roseburg police officers are wearing cameras to record interactions with witnesses and suspects.
Officers last week started clipping the cameras, which are no bigger than a deck of cards, to their shirt or belt.
“It’s a way to be more transparent and show the community what we are doing,” Sgt. Jeff Eichenbusch said. “In the big scheme of things, I think it will be really beneficial for everybody — the police department and the community.”
Body cameras are becoming increasingly popular among law enforcement agencies across the country. Cameras are credited with recording evidence of crimes, protecting police from false accusations of misconduct and keeping officers from abusing their power. Police have also found people who know they are being recorded behave better.
The American Civil Liberties Union generally takes a dim view of surveillance cameras, but an ACLU policy analyst concluded in a report last year that police-worn cameras hold officers accountable.
The organization notes, however, that body cameras have more potential than dashboard cameras to invade privacy and says there should be strict policies for their use.
Roseburg Detective Sgt. Joe Kaney, who wrote the department’s camera policy, said officers are required to immediately inform people they are being recorded. The exception is if an officer must immediately jump into action, like at a shooting. Safety then becomes the priority, Kaney said.
“It’s so cost-effective and will do away with so many problems,” he said. “Within the decade, I think it will be the rule not the exception.”
Roseburg police Chief Jim Burge said there have been times when officers’ actions were questioned.
“The use of force will now be justified, or not, much more easily,” he said. “We enjoy an immense amount of what I perceive as trust from our citizens. This is one way to remain transparent.”
The ACLU cited a study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police that found 93 percent of police-misconduct cases in which video was available resulted in the officer’s exoneration. Half of the complaints were immediately withdrawn when video evidence was produced. The study also found the public strongly supported the cameras.
A study on the Rialto, California, Police Department’s use of cameras found there was a sharp decrease in complaints against police, and officers were less likely to use force.
Roseburg City Manager Lance Colley said he and the police department reviewed the experience of other law enforcement agencies.
“We felt it was a significant public safety improvement for our sworn officers,” he said. “Generally, people tend to behave differently when they are on camera.”
The department’s 36 sworn officers are required to turn the camera on to record “anything that could be adversarial,” Eichenbusch said.
Eichenbusch said the cameras will not replace police reports. “They still have to write a detailed, quality report,” he said.
Police bought 33 cameras and were given four more by Jupiter Entertainment, a production company that recently spent time in Roseburg working on a TV show about the 1990 murder of Donald Fish, a traveling portrait photographer who was killed by two women he met in a Roseburg bar.
Each camera cost $299. The department spent money it saved during the year through personnel vacancies.
Kaney said police tried out a half dozen cameras and narrowed their choices down to two manufactured by TASER International, the same company that makes the department’s electroshock weapons.
A handful of officers tried the cameras in the field last fall before agreeing on the TASER Axon camera, the simpler and less expensive model, he said.
Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg said his department has started to see some videos from Roseburg police and said they are impressive.
“The audio is clear. The pictures are clear. There can’t be any dispute about who said what or what happened,” he said.
“I think the video is another important tool law enforcement will be able to use in forming cases,” Wesenberg said.
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The use of force will now be justified, or not, much more easily.
Roseburg police chief