Many Oakland County Police Agencies Still Not Sold On Body Cameras

Northville officers are among a handful of Oakland County police using body cameras and Dustin Krueger said they have exceeded his expectations. 

Krueger, a Northville police captain, said he initially had concerns about body cameras but now believes the devices bring greater transparency and accountability to the department. 

“The citizens want to know we are doing things the right way,” he said. “These help with the transparency and accountability in showing whether we’re doing something right or if there are areas for improvement and training opportunities.”

The use of body cameras comes more than two years after Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation regulating their usage, retention of data, who can request footage, and what information can be released. 

The department signed a five-year, $83,000 contract with Watchguard earlier this year but received around $14,000 in grants to offset the costs. 

Krueger said he understands that some residents may be concerned about their local police using body cameras, but added the devices are designed to protect them as well as the officers using them.

He said the Watchguard video camera system is very user-friendly, the images are clear, and it has the ability to capture four different camera views. 

“When that one incident occurs, such as a major use of force, you want to be able to have the ability to go back and review it to make sure everyone is following policy and procedure in being as safe as they can,” he said. “It’s invaluable because it allows us to make sure we’re all doing things the right and safe way.”

After Snyder signed into law, police agencies across the state began researching the cost, storage, redaction, citizen privacy, and how such devices would impact their procedures, processes, and personnel. 

The Oakland Press reached out to 42 of the county’s law enforcement agencies in November to assess their progress on body camera usage.

Included in the informal survey were the State Police and Oakland County Sheriff’s office. Public safety departments at Oakland University and Oakland Community College were also contacted. 

Seven county police agencies are currently using body cameras are under contract with either Washington-based Axon or Texas-based Watchguard, the two largest U.S. manufacturers of camera systems for law enforcement. Minnesota-based Getac is another major brand.

Axon has multi-year contracts with 60 police agencies across Michigan, including Hazel Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and White Lake Township. Ferndale and Northville police departments are under contract with Watchguard.

The Lake Orion Police Department has been using body cameras since 2015, that’s when a local businessman purchased two cameras for the department. As of this year, each officer now has a body camera, manufactured by Prima Facie, according to Lt. Harold Rossman. 

The contracts include body and in-car cameras as well as cloud-based data software, which allows agencies to view, store, redact, and download the footage. Agencies even have the ability, using the software, to send videos directly to local prosecutor’s offices for review if used as evidence in an investigation.

A new law has law enforcement agencies across Michigan researching how body cameras would work within their departments.

Seventeen other county police agencies are studying body cameras. Others still have concerns about how body cameras could impact citizen privacy and procedures related to FOIA requests and staffing levels needed to handle those additional requests and redaction needs.

Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren said his department just finished a pilot program with Axon and is now testing out Watchguard. 

He’s hoping to finalize a five-year, $1.5 million contract with one of those two manufacturers by early next year and be online by April. Barren added that body cameras can help “squash rumors” and gain public trust. 

“I don’t have too many concerns about using body cameras,” he said. “I used them while working at the Detroit Police Department for the past 21 years. I know the value of having both dash cams and body cameras because it changes the behavior of the officers and the citizens. Body cameras tell the real story no matter who made a complaint.”

Curt Lawson, West Bloomfield Township deputy police chief, said his department could implement body cameras in the next two to three years, but that he has concerns about the amount of FOIA redactions that could be required and the amount of additional personnel that would be needed to do so. 

“We have to be fiscally responsible and know what the end costs are going to be,” he said. “We are open to having them, but we need to do our due diligence.” 

Other agencies like Madison Heights and Farmington Hills have plans to purchase body cameras in the next few years. The State Police and the Southfield police are currently conducting pilot programs with Axon and WatchGuard before deciding on who to sign a contract with. 

Although officials in Clawson, Holly, and Keego Harbor are not studying body cameras at this time, they are open to doing so in the future. 

No Thanks

Police in Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, Walled Lake and at Oakland Community College told The Oakland Press they have no interest in studying or purchasing body cameras at this time. 

Others still have concerns about the technology.

Rochester Police Chief Steven Schettenhelm said his department does not have any immediate plans to purchase body cameras and still has concerns with managing data and privacy of the residents his officers interact with. 

“We need to be fair to the citizens that may be in private and compromising situations,” he said. “We’d like to see others chart those waters so that we can better understand what rights we have in order to protect our citizens filmed in those very private situations.”

He said the department recently upgraded its in-car cameras to include increased storage space. Play Video

Bloomfield Township Police Chief Philip Langmeyer said he has concerns with financing and storage capabilities. 

“We are not studying body cameras and have no plans for implementation,” he said. “We have other priorities and challenges that we need to address at this time.” 

Walled Lake Police Chief Paul Shakinas said the department’s in-car cameras cover 90 percent of the officer-citizen contact and sees no need for body cameras. 

“The body camera technology is just not there,” he said. “The cameras  would not be able to keep up with the 12 plus hours being worked by some of our officers.” 

Oakland County Sheriff’s Office 

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office contracts with 12 communities to provide police service including Pontiac, Rochester Hills, Lyon Township, Orion Township, and others. 

Sheriff Michael Bouchard, who crafted portions of the state’s body camera law, said although state law prohibits video filmed inside a home from public release, he still has concerns about other situations in which people could have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” including those filmed outside the home but still in vulnerable situations. 

He said this could include people showering at their workplace or performing sexual acts inside a car. 

Bouchard said the in-home protections are just not enough to ensure citizen privacy. He would like to see changes made to the law before he would consider implementing body cameras at the sheriff’s office, which he said would cost around $2 million. 

“I’m the one who sought this (legislative) language, but there are still situations that don’t occur in the home where people could have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in a car,” he said. “Now you get into the whole argument of what’s reasonable.”

In Bouchard’s view, the main purpose of using body cameras is for evidentiary value and to hold police accountable, something he discussed with legislators while crafting the law. He also has concerns about released videos being used for entertainment purposes that would “invade the privacy of fellow citizens.” 

“I don’t want people to be subjected to cameras just because the police are wearing them unless it’s to hold us accountable,” he said. “There are so many different questions that go to privacy. Right now, we are having more and more discussions about privacy. I tried to get (legislators) to understand that. You can’t split the baby on privacy.”

Another change that he would like to see added to the 2017 law includes more explicit language about what video can be redacted and what cannot. 

From www.theoaklandpress.com