Cameras keep officers, residents in check

Staff writer

In wake of the Ferguson, Missouri police shooting, several large police departments across the country are looking at supplying officers with body cameras to debunk any questions after a confrontation, but Marion Police Department is ahead of the curve.

For the past year, every officer on the department except Chief Tyler Mermis, because he isn’t often on active duty, has been required to use the cameras while on duty. After talking with other departments across the state, Mermis believes Marion is the smallest department in the state using the cameras since the department purchased four cameras from TASER last April for around $2,500.

Using the cameras is a matter of safety for residents and officers because it creates a record of exactly what the officer sees during a stop, he said.

“It keeps everyone honest,” Mermis said.

He said many departments across the country are looking at purchasing the cameras and requiring officers use them whenever in contact with a resident during active duty.

Sheriff Rob Craft is looking into buying cameras for county officers, however he was unclear if the decision was due to backlash after Ferguson or before. He is currently weighing his options as to what cameras would suit the department best.

The cameras attach by magnet to a headpiece, sunglasses, or shoulder harness. Canine officer Legion can also be fitted with a camera. Videos without sound are recorded until the record button is pressed, then the camera will skip back three seconds and record what’s happening before a situation before recording sound.

Assistant Marion Police Chief Clinton Jeffrey praises the cameras, saying they take the question out of a situation.

“A situation is cut and dry with no deviation,” he said. “With the camera on my head it can see everything I see.”

The cameras have cut down complaints about officers and the amount of time officers spend in court each week. Video footage is often used for training, with officers critiquing fellow officers’ responses to different situations. If a camera is worn on an officer’s head, it can reveal if an officer looks before entering an intersection while heading to a call.

Mermis said he preferred personal cameras to dash mounted ones.

“In-car cameras work and record sound,” Mermis said, “but they can only see so much. These see everything the officer sees.”

Peabody Police Chief Bruce Burke is looking at making the transaction from car cameras to personal cameras next year. Currently Hillsboro and Peabody departments do not use the cameras.

He’s budgeting for three units, one for each of the two full-time officers, and one for the part-time officer.

“I think they are a wonderful tool,” he said. “They show whatever the officers see and will help keep the public informed and enhance the officers’ response to situations.”

Jeffrey said he feels incomplete without the camera.

“It’s probably saved a few careers here,” Officer Mike Stone said.

Because the cameras are relatively new, Mermis is uncertain what he will do with footage not used for evidence. The department created nearly 800 videos last year and 400 so far this year. Currently they are kept on a secure database in case a video needs to be viewed.

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