LACONIA — Police Officer Holly Callanan displayed the equipment she carries on her uniform — sidearm, Taser, handcuffs, radio, spare magazines, keys.
And now she has something extra, a square piece of sturdy black plastic with a lens, a switch, a button, a battery and electronic circuitry.
Callahan is field testing one of the body cameras that will be worn on the chest of all 43 Laconia police officers by the end of May.
“I think they are great,” she said. “I think they give an accurate depiction of what we’re actually dealing with on the street.
“For the most part, people have been really great about it. I think it’s something the public wants to see.
“I haven’t had anybody get upset that they are being video recorded. In fact, the contrary; people are acting more appropriately because, guess what, the judges can potentially see this, too, and see how you’re acting. This could potentially be the video footage used in a criminal case.”
She said the cameras haven’t changed the way she conducts business.
“I treat people with respect that they deserve and I talk to them just how I would normally,” Callahan said.
Body cams have gained in popularity among police departments as helpful tools. They record interactions between officers and citizens, providing valuable documentation if that interaction becomes an issue. The digital video can also be used in training, or can even yield crime-scene images useful to investigators.
Police Chief Matt Canfield said his officers are professional and act appropriately whether or not they have a body cam.
“We have good officers here,” he said. “We’re not perfect. Do we make mistakes? Yeah, we do, but we’re not out there beating people up, we’re not out there jacking people up or planting evidence. Truthfully, if we were, I want to know about that, because I don’t want those officers here. Nor do other officers want them here.”
He said video from body cams can help inform the discussion about policing and give the public a greater understanding of what officers encounter when they deal with dangerous people.
“The way people behave when they’re violent or when they are under the influence of drugs or sometimes alcohol, that’s the stuff the public doesn’t see and to be able to play that is great, because you can’t really know how that looks," Canfield said. "You can’t articulate in a report the way a video looks, or how fast things go down.
”It’s easy to sit back the next day or Monday-morning quarterback and say, ‘Wow, why did that officer use so much force?’
“Well, look at the video.”
Police body cam videos can be released to the public under New Hampshire law in cases of use of force, restraint, discharge of a firearm and felony arrest unless such release constitutes an invasion of privacy.
When the video is reviewed it may well give a sense of how little time officers often have in making use-of-force decisions.
Police calls can go from mundane to violent in a heartbeat.
Canfield remembers a case when he was a patrol officer and was sent to a domestic disturbance call in Lakeport.
Canfield was in a tight hallway, waiting for a ride to come for an intoxicated person when he got a painful surprise. A man who was high on meth suddenly punched Canfield hard in the nose, sending blood flying. They ended up grappling in a parking lot, with Canfield struggling to get out of a headlock.
“He was on my back,” Canfield said. “I would have shot him if I could have gotten to my gun. It was a very violent altercation. We wrestled in the parking lot for what felt like an eternity. I was able to get him off my back and he ran.”
Fellow officer Mike Finogle showed up and they arrested the man with the assistance of Yago, a police dog. Canfield ended up with a broken nose and a dislocated shoulder. He remembers Finogle being surprised to find him bloody and battered.
“Of course, Mike shows up and is like, ‘Hey, what happened to you? You, alright?”
“I’m like, ‘No! Go get him! Go get him!’”
Police in Tilton and Gilford also use body cams.
Gilford Police Chief Anthony Bean Burpee said his 18-person department got cameras about four years ago.
“Officers love them, hands down,” he said. “They have been more of a positive thing than they have been negative. I would also be accurate in saying that when I enrolled in this, there were some officers who were apprehensive about it, not because they were worried about being recorded, but because they had worked here for 12 years and didn’t have to use them.”
He said they’ve proven valuable.
“They help in actualizing or memorializing events that take place,” Bean Burpee said. “They assist in writing reports accurately, catching a view of actual events as they unfold.”
With all the surveillance cameras and telephone cameras in today's world, it is good to have a camera view from the officer’s perspective, he said.
They are also helpful when a member of the public makes a complaint about excessive use of force or improper police behavior.
Bean Burpee said that, a couple years ago, a Laconia officer and a Gilford officer were working together and a woman said police were disrespectful to her and yelled at her.
“I pulled up the camera from our officer and it contradicted everything she said,” Bean Burpee said.
“They explained why they were there. She interrupted. They answered her questions.
“I called her up and asked her to come in and review the video footage. It’s been two years, and I’ve never heard from her again.”
How they work
The cameras, which can hold a charge for 16 hours, are typically in a 30-second loop recording mode. When an officer activates lights and sirens, or powers up a Taser, the camera begins continuous recording. Technology now being worked on will also activate the camera when an officer pulls a service pistol.
Manual activation is also possible with a large button in the middle of the unit. A switch can also shut off the power, but officers are generally supposed to have the device on.
Officers are to inform the public when they are recording.
At the end of a shift, the camera is put in a dock to recharge and download video.
The department is also placing cameras in patrol vehicles, one on the dashboard and one showing the passenger compartment.
The cameras were mentioned in city budget documents.
“In today’s day of modern policing, the use of body-worn cameras is quickly becoming the norm in order to increase police accountability and transparency, reduce citizen complaints, reduce liability and increase officer safety,” the budget stated.
It also stated that acquisition of the cameras are in line with goals of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing issued in May 2015.
Cameras, video storage, maintenance, upgrades and Tasers were part of an $88,000-a-year, five-year contract with a company that provides, maintains and services the devices, an expenditure approved by the City Council.
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