OSSINING, NY When Ossining police were called after a snake slithered under a resident’s stove early last week they responded and released the creature into a local park.
In doing so, they also collected body camera footage that they later edited together and uploaded to YouTube.
The resulting video — done with a dash of movie trailer hype and in the spirit of a ‘Cops’ episode — has become part of an unanticipated side benefit of the push to outfit officers with the video devices. Adding social media into the mix, as the Ossining police are doing, creates a whole new way for police to reach out to the public.
“The truth is it’s really a two-way street,” said Ossining police Lt. Kevin Sylvester. “These camera are great for holding cops accountable, but they’re also great for showing what the cops do.”
Ossining police have been wearing body cameras in some capacity for more than a year. Other departments in the area are also getting on board: White Plains is in the process of outfitting all of its uniformed officers with body cameras, following a 10-month pilot program to test the devices, and Westchester County police are conducting their own pilot program this year.
So far, however, the Ossining department’s use of its body cam footage has stood out. Its 1:37-long video of the black rat snake has been viewed over 2,000 times since being uploaded on May 27, garnering 21 ‘likes’ and six comments in the process, including one commending officers for not getting “rattled.”
On Facebook, where the Ossining Police Department maintains a regularly updated presence, the video had been liked 131 times and shared 29 times as of Thursday afternoon. Commenters praised the department for both its sense of humor and its officers’ response.
“For a long time there’s been a divide between the public and the police in the sense they don’t always know what we do,” Sylvester said. “Tensions being what they are all over the country, this is a fantastic opportunity for people to get an eye on what police are doing.”
Sylvester did note that police do not often respond to calls for snakes or other animals — a particularly outdoorsy officer captured the snake footage.
And not all of its video postings are as light-hearted.
More harrowing footage was captured by officers’ body cameras in late January. A department video, also uploaded to YouTube, shows Officers Javier DeJesus and Pasquale Santucci, along with Paramedic Catherine Steger, carrying several unconscious people out of a home with dangerous levels of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The department’s active social media presence has included archival video from the 1941 funeral of Officer James Fagan, who was killed in duty, and alerts about bear sightings and closed roads. They’re also teasing viewers about a special post planned for July 1, though Sylvester was coy on what that would be.
Social media gives residents “a better insight into what (officers) do, it makes our cops a little more personal, it gives people a chance to know their police officers and their town,” Sylvester said. “It sort of breaks down barriers and that’s really what we’re excited about.