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Enterprise: Body cameras, tip lines among crime-fighting tools

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

Body-worn cameras are the latest tool law enforcement agencies across the state and locally use to improve police and community relations. Police departments are investing in the cameras for their officers.

East Spencer Police Department has been using its MUVI brand cameras for six months now. The department bought eight cameras including accompanying 8 gigabyte SD cards for $100 each.

Police Chief Baxter Michael said because the agency is small, these types of cameras were more practical. The cameras are given to four patrol officers, a peak-time officer, a corporal and sergeant. Michael also has a camera, he said, if needed.

The cameras can be manually activated or voice activated by the officer. Although the officer puts the camera on and takes it off, only a supervisor can download the recordings to a CD.

“It was something we felt we needed for interaction. It helps us make sure our officers are doing what they should,” Michael said.

Before using the cameras, the department received an average of two complaints a month. Since adopting the cameras six months ago, the department has received only two complaints, he said.

Michael said the body cameras protect officers from frivolous complaints of misconduct and hold the officer accountable for any wrongdoings.

“It’s another tool to help us do our job and help us be better at what we are doing,” Michael said.

Michael hopes to upgrade to a higher quality camera in the near future.

Other law enforcement agencies in the county have discussed the possibility of getting body cameras.

Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins says the cameras could be on the horizon for his agency.

“I had a plan and desire for about two years,” Collins said.

Collins delayed the body cameras, he said, to wait on the technology to be developed by the same company that created the department’s in-car camras, Watch Guard.

“Watch Guard is designing one that we feel would meet our needs,” Collins said.

The company is expected to debut its body cameras in March. Collins has seen a demonstration of the body camera, with features that include night vision and a wide-angle lens and can start recording after the fact of an incident.

Collins is looking for funding, which he says will likely come from private sources. The cameras cost $900 each.

The department would need 60 cameras for its patrol officers, school resource officers and members of the street crimes unit.

Collins said he’s tested other brands, but feel the one being created by Watch Guard will best suit the department. He hopes to have the body cameras in place this year, but says it depends upon funding.

Other tools Collins hopes to employ to help the department better combat crime are a mobile surveillance camera and a digital tip line. The camera could be mounted in areas deemed high-crime by residents and law enforcement.

“We could use the camera in hot spot areas, stream live and record for crime deterrence,” Collins said.

He said the mobile surveillance cameras are also tied to funding. If the funding is available it’s a tool the department use.

The tip line would be a website where people who aren’t comfortable with face-to-face interaction or a phone call could anonymously submit a tip online.

There are some tools the Salisbury Police Department currently uses that Collins said still help deter crime, including Project Safe Neighborhoods and its community relations officers. The program works with offenders who are placed on a watch list; if they are arrested for a crime that involves firearms, they can be charged and convicted federally.

The community relations officers — Annice Chunn and Reuben Ijames — have been in the communities asking people what they want from their police department.

Chunn has worked to help neighborhoods establish Community Watch programs. Before Chunn met with neighborhoods, there were 18 watch programs, some less active than others. A year later, there are 25 watch programs, officials said.

Nearly since he began with the department, Ijames has been knocking on doors and meeting residents in high-crime areas.

The private social network for neighbors program, NextDoor, is another way police interact with the community. The free site allows users to let their neighbors and police know about crimes, organize Neighborhood Watch programs or even find a trustworthy babysitter.

Collins said the program is growing and several communities in Salisbury have signed on to the program.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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