Police body camera: A watchful eye that doesn’t lie

Police body camera: A watchful eye that doesn’t lie »Play Video
NAMPA, Idaho (KBOI) – Shocking video shows two dogs in Nampa attacking a Nampa police officer. It was captured by cops wearing body cameras.

“This was not an officer that was randomly shooting an animal. These animals were attacking him and it's pretty clear on both officers’ body cameras that these dogs were attacking this officer, there's no question that he had no other option,” Sgt. Joe Ramirez said.

Ramirez says the department invested in body cameras a few years back. The Nampa Police Department decided audio recorders alone weren't good enough anymore.

"One of the things you don't pick up with the audio recorders is body language. I have reviewed audio where you hear a very peaceful conversation going on with a citizen and an officer during the contact. All of the sudden you hear the officer's voice being elevated saying ‘get on the ground’ and there's a struggle being recorded and you don't know what happened. You read the officer’s report and (see) the person put their hands in their pocket or whatever the case may be, reached for a weapon or attacked the officer. You don't pick that up in an audio recording, you do in a video recording," Ramirez said.

A high-profile study conducted by Cambridge University showed when the Rialto Police Department in California put cameras on their cops, the number of complaints against officers plummeted 60 percent and use of force incidents dropped 88 percent.

Ramirez investigates complaints against Nampa officers. He believes the cameras have made a similar impact.

"The first thing I usually do is go look at the video to see what it entailed. A lot of times I'll call these folks and say ‘this was captured on video tape and your complaint is what? Because it's not very clear in your complaint,’ They find out we have a video system and many times they'll withdraw that complaint.

In 2009, the first year cameras were phased in, there were 68 complaints against the department. That number dropped 44 percent to 38 last year. In that same time period, use of force cases went from 63 down to 48. That’s a drop of 24 percent.

The camera is not rolling during every contact with the public, it's up to each officer to decide to activate depending on if they feel the situation is becoming potentially dangerous. They also turn them on during interviews and use the cameras as an evidence gathering tool.

"I've got to a habit now where you'll even, I'll turn it on as I'm pulling up. I did it yesterday for a gentleman who had a warrant, a history of running from us," said patrol officer Jacob Peper.

The feeling on the beat is that the cameras are helping.

“It is possible. If I was to tell somebody who was level headed at that particular moment that I was recording this interaction, it may stop them from doing things or saying things or coming back later and trying to claim that an officer was rude or insulting or maybe said something racist or whatever that's not true. But a lot of times we deal with mostly people that are just at wits ends, they are so angry that they don't care,” Peper said.

“They're out there, every patrol officer in the city of Nampa has a personal recording device whether it be audio or video, and those incidents are encouraged to be documented anytime they have contact with a citizen,” Ramirez said.

Here in the Treasure Valley, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office also uses body cameras. The Ada County Sheriff’s Office, Boise Police Department and Meridian Police Department do not use body cameras. The departments have tested them and are considering buying them for their deputies and officers.