City police officers have added a new tool to their arsenal: remote video cameras that capture what they’re observing in real time.
In October, some Saratoga Springs officers began carrying the Axon Flex Camera System, a device produced by Taser International. The cameras were part of a 2012 pilot program operated by the department and supported last year when the City Council approved a $6,000 expenditure to outfit several officers.
Police Chief Greg Veitch said the system’s primary purpose is to help document incidents officers are involved in and are not intended to replace traditional police work. He said officers will still conduct interviews and collect evidence as normal, but will now have another tool to give insight into the situations they face.
“On-officer cameras do provide the benefit of recording an event in real time,” he said in a statement Wednesday; “however it is important to keep in mind that the images and sounds captured by the equipment may not provide the total picture of what has occurred and must be viewed in the appropriate context.”
The lightweight cameras are only about three inches long and can record video and audio. Officers can wear them on their shoulder, collar, headgear or glasses.
Officers can turn the cameras on and off. Veitch said officers are encouraged — but not mandated — to record situations such as traffic stops, confrontations, investigating suspicious persons or vehicles and other encounters.
Veitch said officers are also told to respect “the privacy and dignity” of individuals they may encounter. This means they are instructed to turn the units off when encountering people who are nude or where a heightened expectation of privacy would be expected, such as a locker room or restroom.
Veitch said the department will also restrict use of the cameras at protests or demonstrations, unless a violation of the law is occurring. He said officers are not, however, required to notify people that they are recording.
He said the department does not have enough cameras to outfit each officer on every shift and there are no plans to add any additional units this year. He said officers who are not in uniform are prohibited from wearing the unit without specific supervisory approval.
“It is important for police officers to document situations they are involved in thoroughly and accurately,” he said. “On-officer video camera systems ... are another tool for law enforcement to effectively document incidents, provided their use is balanced with the privacy rights and dignity of all citizens we encounter.”
Veitch said the cameras have been used to help develop a fuller picture of an incident, but declined to cite a specific incident. The systems were put into use just three months after the department was involved in a controversial foot chase that ended with the 21-year-old Malta man they were pursuing sustaining life-threatening injuries.
Darryl Mount, then a parolee, was approached by police after the group he was with was involved in a predawn scuffle on Caroline Street on Aug. 31. Mount was chased by officers down an alleyway, where he scaled scaffolding behind 422 Broadway and fell roughly 20 feet to an area near the outside patio of Gaffney’s Restaurant.
Mount remains in treatment for the injuries he sustained last summer and will likely never make a full recovery. Patty Jackson, his mother, has repeatedly called for an independent investigation into the incident, citing several different police accounts of the events that led up to her son’s injury.
Late last year, Mount’s family filed a notice of claim against the city — a precursor to a civil lawsuit. Contacted Wednesday, Jackson expressed deep skepticism the cameras would have cleared up any of the lingering doubts in her son’s case, since the officers could have easily turned them off during the pursuit.
“It’s a day late and a dollar short,” she said. “And it’s senseless when the police can control when they’re on and when they’re off.”