NEWTON GROVE — Members of the police department will have another eye on patrol with them.
During a recent meeting, commissioners approved a policy for officers to use body cameras, a device widely used by departments across the United States.
“I think it’s a great tool for us to have, so we can keep the community safe, as well as officers,” Chief Frankie Harrell said.
Town Attorney Lew Starling said the department is far ahead of many municipalities and discussed some of the aspects of a policy approved by commissioners. Footage will be held for 90 days unless there is a dispute.
“If there’s an issue, you may retain it forever,” Starling said. “The theory is that you can’t retain them forever. In 90 days, you’ll know whether or not there’s some issue.”
If an incident was to occur, a district attorney or lawyer may request footage to be used for legal matters.
“My philosophy is ‘let the sunshine in,’” Starling said. “Always turn them over as quick as possible, unless it affects the investigation.”
According to Harrell, the department already has the body cameras, but was waiting for the commissioners to approve the policy. A camera will be provided to each officer.
“We actually made the decision a few months ago to purchase them,” Harrell said.
The cost for each device is more than $300 and the total price tag for the equipment is $1,500.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to use the footage for squashing any quarrels that may come up,” Harrell said about any possibility of reviewing footage.
Officials believe it’ll benefit residents and officers, since people behave differently when they’re being recorded.
“It works both ways,” Harrell said
A study produced by the Police Foundation and published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, shows that cameras may help deescalate situations during interactions between officers and the public. During a yearlong study with the Rialto, Calif. Police Department, use-of-force by officers with cameras fell by 59 percent and complaints against officers decreased by 87 percent.
The study produced by Chief Tony Farrar, an executive fellow of the Police Foundation, was widely discussed during debates regarding police and shootings of unarmed citizens. President Barack Obama was an advocate for the technology and requested Congress to provide funding to law enforcement agencies.
Harrell said Newton Grove officers plan to use the body cameras immediately. Footage will be stored on a computer hard drive using software and other technology methods.
“Most of the time, the footage would be used during a criminal situation,” Harrell said.
In 2015, the Clinton Police Department began using a body cameras after it was approved by the City Council.
The body cameras are one of several improvements for the Newton Grove Police Department. New computers were recently purchased for vehicles, with access to computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. In 2016, officers also welcomed a K-9, a Belgian Malinois, with duties to help officers find drugs and evidence, as well as to track people.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.