CSPD body cams hit streets in full force 

click to enlarge Police Commander Pat Rigdon demonstrates how body cameras work. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Police Commander Pat Rigdon demonstrates how body cameras work.

Most Colorado Springs Police Department officers who have frequent contact with the public now sport body-worn cameras. Those cameras document thousands of encounters that weren't recorded previously.

Several dozen CSPD officers have worn cameras since last fall, but the full rollout involving 440 officers took place earlier this year. Only about 35 officers don't have them yet, such as the Colorado Springs Airport unit, but they will soon.

On April 3, the CSPD staged a news conference to demonstrate the technology, noting that since Jan. 1, officers' cameras have shot 23,500 videos. Some have already popped up as evidence in criminal trials, and Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May says their greater value might lie in achieving more resolutions before a trial, by showing defendants video proof of what happened during an arrest. "It has been crucial to plea bargaining," May said.

Police Commander Pat Rigdon predicted the cameras' presence will alter not only officers' behavior in dialing back excessive use of force, but also suspects' attacks on officers.

"Only time will tell," Rigdon said, noting six months of use are needed to get a read on the true impact of cameras on suspect and officer behavior.

Rigdon said full rollout was delayed because the equipment requires a special uniform and added routers installed in cruisers. Training also was provided to the DA's and public defenders' offices.

Officers can activate cameras themselves, but Rigdon noted they start recording automatically in some cases, such as when a police car's overhead lights are activated and the officer opens his or her door.

Citizens won't automatically be told they're being filmed, but officers have been told to answer that question if asked. Officers have no ability to delete video in the field, he said. The tactical unit is not using body cameras at this time as debate swirls around that question nationally, Rigdon said.

Footage can be viewed in the field, he noted, which is useful if a suspect flees and a good description is needed.

Videos aren't routinely reviewed; rather, scrutiny is applied to those involving officer complaints, those needed to investigate a case or those helpful in prosecuting or defending a criminal case. Videos are considered evidence and will be treated as such for open records requests, meaning not many are likely to be released to the public or the press.

On hand during the news conference were Pastor Orion Flournoy and Pastor Martin Felder, who minister to largely black communities."We want to hear it firsthand," Flournoy says. "Everything needs to be proven that it works." They told the Independent their attendance at the news conference stemmed from minority citizens' "distrust of the PD."


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