Police body cameras: Are they worth the cost?

Posted: 10:47 PM, Nov 20, 2017
Updated: 2017-11-21 04:47:17Z

For more than a decade, police officers in Northeast Wisconsin have recorded themselves doing their jobs.

First, they used mounted cameras on their squad cars that recorded to tape. However, it took up an incredible amount of time and space.

Now, tiny lenses allow officers to stream video from body-worn cameras directly to secure internet storage. However, not all departments want that capability.

In Appleton, officers wear body cameras.

"From everything big and small, our officers are getting a lot of use out of the tool," said Capt. Todd Freeman with the Appleton Police Department. 

One major benefit of the cameras is holding police officers accountable.

"There are officers who no longer work here today as a result of investigations of which video was a part," Capt. Freeman explained.

However, the video captured can also clear officers accused of wrongdoing. People who interact with police told NBC26 they appreciate the accountability going both ways.

"I think it's imperative," said Susan Baxter. "I think that they should always behave appropriately and they should always be able to have evidence that they have done so."

Capt. Freeman believes body cameras will be a staple of departments down the road.

"Looking into the future, it'll be much like some of the other technologies we've added over the last 15-to-20 years, is officers in the future couldn't imagine doing this job without it," Capt. Freeman said.

Not everyone agrees. The Green Bay Police Department has decided not to use the tool, citing both privacy and cost concerns.

"I bristle a little bit at the idea of cops going into people's houses recording everything that's going on and, 'You can trust us we're the government and we're going to keep us secure,'" said Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith.

Instead, Green Bay officers continue to use their car-mounted camera program to combat some of those privacy concerns. In the same way, Appleton officers may leave their cameras off when they feel its appropriate. 

"Recognizing that under times of extreme stress, we want our officers to be dealing with threats, protecting people instead of starting cameras so we do recognize that sometimes it's going to be an afterthought," explained Capt. Freeman.

When Captain Freeman recognizes he's about to interact with a civilian, he turns on his body camera. It immediately starts recording sound, and the video actually goes back 30 seconds.

"Above all else, police officers rely on the trust of the community," said Capt. Freeman. "We do our jobs with integrity and it's a tool to support that."

However, it's a tool that comes with a cost: body cameras for the Appleton Police Department cost taxpayers $110,000 a year.

Nonetheless, officers believe the cameras are worth every penny.