LITTLE ROCK, AR – Little Rock Police have been testing body cameras with a half dozen police officers for the past six weeks. KARK submitted a Freedom of Information request for a sample of the footage. And we spoke with one officer who sees the value in the video.
Officer Alvin Jackson has been on patrol for more than 20 years.
“Have you seen a lot?” we asked Jason.
“Oh, I sure have,” he said with a laugh behind the wheel of his patrol vehicle.
And Jackson is seeing more than ever these days, including how he handles situation out in the field.
“It gives you a chance to grade yourself,” he said. “You can look at that and say, well I should have did this or asked that.”
Jackson is one of six officers testing body cameras for the department over the last month. He’s tried different types and on different locations, like connected to eyeglasses, his lapel and on his chest. And the cameras have rolled through house checks, vehicle stops and arrests.
“I think it’s a good tool it gives another perspective we’re not used to getting,” Jackson said. “Usually, we just have the audio from the dashcam, because you park the car and get out. But a lot of times, you can tell something bad is about to happen through something that isn’t verbally broadcasted. But people don’t usually get to see that. This way, they can see exactly what led to us making the decision we did.”
Like Jackson said, in the past cars have been equipped with MVR, or dashcam, meaning when the officer steps out of the car and onto the scene out of frame, the camera stays behind.
Body cams, though, provide the police officer’s perspective the entire time in full quality.
“The quality is better,” Lt. Steven McClanahan said. “And I mean it’s right up on you with that being on your body. It’s a lot different from the MVR system. There’s no way to refute what happens on tape. It’s there, you can see it.”
And Jackson believes the inside look could be an eye opener for the average Joe and juries alike.
“I think it will help in understanding why we made a decision in a certain case,” Jackson said. “They can look at it and see firsthand why that situation may have played out the way it did.”
Jackson doesn’t see many pitfalls if the gear can be ready to go without much prep.
“The simpler it is, the better I think it is,” he said. “If things are in full swing and you have to get out of the car in a hurry, you don’t want to worry about aiming the camera or running a wire. We don’t have the luxury of oh wait let me turn my camera on and hold on let me straighten this up.”
So far, Jackson hasn’t experienced any issues with audio or video loss, and he says he’s even been able to tag portions of the videos for further review.
McClanahn, saying some portions of video have been tagged during the trial period to be used as evidence in cases. It’s currently unclear whether any of those have run the course in the court system, using these videos as evidence of the crime.
Still, McClanahan said the department is seeing the value in having the video and the possibilities it can offer. That includes protecting citizens by being able to verify complaints and protecting officers by having real-world videos avaialble for training purposes.
“We can take a video if an officer did something by the book, and show new recruits how it’s done,” McClanahan said. “But the reverse is also true. If we have an officer safety issue caught on tape, and the reaction could be better, that offers a teachable moment for the recruits and the officers themselves.”
“I think that’s one of the most valuable aspects of it,” Jackson agreed. “In the academy, you can show these videos to recruits and they can see the types of stressful situations that can occur out on the street firsthand.”
So, Jackson doesn’t mind folks being able to stand in his shoes.
“They get to look at that and actually kind of feel what we feel,” he said. And they get to see what he sees as a cop on the beat.
The Little Rock Police Department will begin testing a second brand of body cameras likely early next week for another month. The recommendations and reviews by officers will be forwarded along to the department’s committee, and a recommendation will be made to the Little Rock Board of Directors. Those directors will ultimately decide to fund the equipment or not.