The City of Fredericksburg Police Department has joined a growing number of agencies across the country issuing body cameras to their officers.
Fredericksburg is using the Axon Flex camera by Taser International. The camera, designed to capture video and audio of an officer’s actions and perspective during an investigation or enforcement encounter, can be worn attached to a lapel or sunglasses.
“The quality of the video produced is impressive, and the captured data is strong evidence to support a written report documenting an interview or an officer’s interaction with the public,” said Natatia Bledsoe, Fredericksburg Police Department public information officer.
“Officers will not be activating the cameras for every random conversation or minor citizen encounter, and recordings that are not useful for evidence or training will automatically be purged from the storage system after thirty days,” Bledsoe said.
The department spent several months testing the cameras and gathering feedback from select officers who wore the devices on a trial basis. The department also wrote a policy to govern the details of the camera use, Bledsoe said. The policy includes this excerpt:
“The use of video and audio recording will be for the purpose of recording evidentiary data to assist in the enforcement and prosecution of federal, state and local statutes. It will also be used to provide an accurate record of an incident for investigative purposes, risk management, civil liability defense and enhancement of officer safety.”
“Officers are not required to inform a citizen that they are being recorded, but some of our officers have already noticed that potentially volatile situations often deescalate once someone realizes their words and actions are being recorded,” Bledsoe said.
The department purchased 76 cameras, one for each of the sworn personnel. The total cost was about $100,000, and includes all the equipment, data storage and a three-year maintenance plan, Bledsoe said.
The New York Times reported last fall on the increased use of body cameras among law enforcement. Bledsoe mentioned one study highlighted in the series, which found citizen complaints against officers dropped 88 percent during the first year of camera deployment, and officers’ use of force during the same period declined 60 percent.
“While the Fredericksburg Police Department already has a low rate of citizen complaints and incidents requiring the use of force, it is our expectation that we will also see positive effects from the use of this new technology as we continue striving to improve our service to the community,” Bledsoe said.
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