The Syracuse Police Department has given NewsChannel 9 an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at its officer body worn camera program.
The devices were thrust into the spotlight when the Chief Monday shared publicly the results of the departments review into a controversial arrest. The officers body cameras giving new perspectives into the stop on Grace Street May 31.
With help from the body cams the Chief cleared two officers of using excessive force but did discipline them for not adhering to the Department’s Officer demeanor during a traffic stop policy.
It takes about four seconds to power the devices on and let them cycle through their buffering process before they’re ready to record.
An officer double presses the “event button” in the center to begin recording.
Syracuse Police Detective Mark Rusin helped develop the policy for using them.
He says security and protection is a top priority, “Unless you physically destroyed the camera, you can not take anything off the camera until it goes to the cloud. Once it’s transmitted up to the cloud, which is our storage based system, even when it’s there none of the front line officers have the ability to alter, delete or change any of that information.”
The SPD body worn camera policy is clear that an officer uses it with almost every citizen encounter, and activates it as soon as practical for that particular event.
The device however is recording and saving video for the 30-seconds prior to an officer activating the record feature.
There are times outlined in the policy where an officer will not record an encounter, like an interview with a sexual assault or domestic violence victim.
Syracuse Police have been using this particular style of body camera, on a free trial basis for about a year.
Even though not every officer wears one during this phase, SPD has already collected about 50,000 images it’s now storing.
Rusin tells NewsChannel 9, “When we receive a request for body worn camera footage, sometimes we do have to do some redactions, but those are only done from a copy, so the original is always in place.”
He says whether it’s a high profile incident or not the department is always reviewing body camera video for ways to improve its use.
At the Grace Street incident an officer had powered his device completely off while returning to the Public Safety Building from another call and then had to power it back on before being able to record what was happening at this now highly publicized incident.
Rusin says they are likely moving to a change in policy to require officers to leave it powered on, even if not in record mode, for an officer’s entire shift.
“We want to make sure we’re taking in all the facts before we actually put that policy into change and then ultimately have the training to that policy,” Rusin says.
The videos are kept for a minimum of six years and some crimes and incidents they plan to keep forever.
“We do learn ways to discuss training. That’s one of the benefits of having body worn cameras is that we’re capturing real life incidents here in Syracuse, so what are Syracuse Police officers dealing with not somebody who’s across the country,” Rusin adds.
He also says the department is moving toward more full deployment where everybody in a uniform interacting on a regular basis with the public will wear one.