Benton Township police secure body cameras

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — After nearly a year and a half of research and price comparisons, the Benton Township police will get body cameras for on-duty officers.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Police Chief Vince Fetke explained to trustees how the body cameras would work and the process that went into picking them.

Fetke said they chose the cameras because of how departments that have already gone through a body camera program have found an overall reduction in use-of-force complaints, citizen complaints for police/citizen interactions and an enhanced relationship between the police and communities.

Trustees approved the purchase of 20 Laser Technology Axon 2 body cameras for more than $16,800. However, about $13,500 will be covered through a Edward Byrne Grant that the township received in 2015.

Also listed on the quoted sheet for the equipment is an annual charge of about $5,500 over the course of the next five years for licensing.

The remaining balance will be paid for from the police department budget.

“I think that we all know the importance of this technology, especially in recent months, not only nationally, but locally, in recording critical events that occur with law enforcement,” Fetke said. “When we submitted for this grant, we were looking at a lot of first-generation body cameras that lacked some of the things we were looking for our department.”

Recently, TASER International came out with its latest generation of body camera.

Not only is the latest generation out, but it is a programmable body camera. Fetke said the idea is to reduce any long-term costs in having to replace them with new technology. Each uniformed officer for the township will be issued their own body camera, Fetke said.

“Like our existing in-car camera system, any time an officer has contact with a citizen it shall be activated,” Fetke said. “The officer will turn it on prior to getting out of his vehicle. However, it does have pre-event recording capabilities.”

Pre-event recording allows the body camera to begin recording anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes before the officer hits record.

Fetke said this comes in handy during a situation where an officer is caught off guard in an impromptu event.

When asked by trustees about upgrade possibilities for the cameras, Fetke said because they chose the new generation of body cameras, they will work like a software upgrade. Any new enhancements will be downloaded every month.

When an officer puts the body camera back into its charging dock, the updated software will be downloaded. The body cameras have 12 hours of battery life and 70 hours worth of storage, Fetke said.

The other advantage to the newer generations is the additional software that will be put in police vehicles.

Benton Township already has an in-car system that records activity at the front of a patrol car. Fetke said many police agencies are either going to body cameras, trying to buy them or entertaining the idea.

The Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety bought body cameras through a similar grant last year, and other area departments have looked at the idea. The issue has gained national attention as the conduct of police in some well-publicized cases has come under intense scrutiny.

“In certain situations, such as activating overhead lights or the sirens, it will automatically trigger the camera without the officer having to touch the camera to capture the events,” Fetke said. “If anybody saw the film footage for the Benton Harbor incident, they had a first-generation of this camera and it worked quite well.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 22, 2016)

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