The Kauai Police Department has conducted a pilot project on the use of body cameras by patrol officers, with positive — even surprising — results.
Police Chief Darryl Perry said the video recordings allowed officers to more accurately document events as they wrote up their police reports. And that ostensibly will bolster prosecution efforts.
The cameras also proved useful in helping the police commission determine the validity of a complaint that an arrested man filed against an officer, alleging serious violations of the department's Standards of Conduct.
“Because he was wearing a body camera, we were able to review the entire event from beginning to end,” the chief wrote in an email. “It revealed that the officer acted appropriately, and that the allegations were fictitious to detract from his arrest for drugs and seizure of his vehicle. The officer was exonerated.”
The cameras also had another, unexpected result: “It’s funny how people’s attitude change and they become more civil when they realize that they too are being recorded,” the chief wrote.
Now that alone makes the body cams worthwhile in an era when citizens and activists are quick to use their cell phones to record or photograph demonstrations and other events involving police.
The police union, SHOPO, has opposed use of body cameras, contending that all the bugs haven't been worked out of the technology and that officers should consent to wearing them. However, the top brass feels that it's management's right to use the equipment because it doesn’t change the officers’ working conditions.
KPD officials learned about the technology two years ago while attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference. Chief Perry said he saw it as “the wave of the future,” and the department began researching the equipment. KPD decided to move forward with a pilot program long before shooting incidents on the mainland prompted Obama's request for $263 million to buy 50,000 police body cameras.
“We also have our policy in place that follows national standards,” the Chief wrote.
The project was conducted from Sept. 27 to Oct. 27, 2014. Five uniformed patrol officers on different shifts (10 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m.) were outfitted with Taser’s Axon Flex Body Worn Camera, capturing 60 gigabytes of video data that was stored on Evidence.com, a secured cloud platform.
Councilman Gary Hooser, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, asked the chief to make a presentation at today's meeting on “purchasing and using 'body cams' or similar recording technology. This briefing shall include the costs and availability of such technology, and the positive and negative impacts of KPD’s use of such technology.”
Hooser, who is trying to make the most of his tepid committee assignment by seizing on yet another issue of national interest, is apparently unaware of the pilot program, though the information was presented to the police commission. Hooser also invited Prosecutor Justin Kollar, Police Commission Chair Charlie Iona and a SHOPO representative to attend “to present their thoughts, or respond as they may so desire.”
Body cameras might have been useful in sorting out the facts in the case of Dickie Louis, who was shot by police on his rooftop as they attempted to serve a warrant for his arrest. The case recently settled for a small sum. In its coverage of the settlement, which was based on a release distributed by attorney Myles Breiner, who represents Louis's family, Hawaii News Now reported that Chief Perry “testified [in a deposition] that he probably would have handled the situation differently.”
That broadcast prompted the Chief to issue this statement:
There are rumors going around that I did not support the actions of Sergeant [Chris] Calio with regard to the shooting involving Mr. Louis. These assumptions and interpretations from the news broadcast are wrong. And, nothing could be further from the truth. In my deposition I strongly asserted and supported Sergeant Calio stating that he acted appropriately and in accordance with Hawaii Revised Statutes and departmental policies and procedures. Even through hours of questioning, I stood my ground because it was the truth. The confusion is with Hawaii News Now’s reporting. My statement that the “results would have been different” related directly to the command structure and the sequence of events that occurred prior; which left KPD without proper oversight.
As you may recall, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. had suspended Perry and his assistant chiefs, and acting Chief Michael Contrades was at FBI training school, leaving lower-ranking officers in charge.
But as a friend observed, the real tragedy of this case is how Dickie Louis was yet another casualty in the war on drugs. Dickie was a meth addict who stole some koa and was charged with felonies. He got an inexperienced court-appointed attorney who predictably lost his case, and he was scared to show for sentencing. So 40 cops descended on his house to serve the warrant, and a 68-year-old-grandpa ended up dead.
All for what, exactly?
Though it was good to read Rep. Derek Kawakami's comments regarding the serious problem of drug abuse, Drug Court isn't the only or best answer. We need more options for helping addicts before they get involved in the criminal justice system.
I hope Arthur Brun and others who are interested in this critical issue will find financial support for innovative substance abuse treatment centers. Surely, if the state can kick down money to repave Mana Raceway and build a Filipino Cultural Center, it can find the dough to assist the legions in Hawaii who need help getting off the shit.