(Highlands Today (Sebring, FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 11--LAKE PLACID -- In most law enforcement departments, officers wear uniforms and badges and belts with guns and other equipment.
As of this week, Lake Placid police officers added to that cameras attached to the front of their uniforms.
Police Chief James Fansler said wearing a camera allows officers to conduct recorded conversations with people as they would inside a room at the police station.
"We're taking that room to the streets," he said.
The miniature cameras, which are lighter than cell phones, are offered for sale for about $300 each by the Taser Corporation. The devices are Axon Body Cameras.
Fansler said the department, which has seven officers, owns two cameras, but will buy three more.
Currently, he said, Lake Placid patrol cars have video cameras, but those devices don't cover the entire area around the vehicle.
"With the on-body camera, officers will be able to capture nearly 100 percent of the encounter," he said.
That type of video could be helpful in situations where someone with a cell phone videotapes portions of an incident, he said.
In many of those cases, the cell phone videos "don't show what led the officer to take those actions (captured in the cell phone video)," he said.
The camera captures video and audio. That will potentially deter someone from filing a false complaint against an officer or telling a lie to the officer, Fansler said.
Moreover, he said, the camera will provide potential evidence that could be presented in court. That, he said, could reduce costs by reducing the number of people who go to trial, as opposed to pleading to the charges.
When the cameras are in use, "it can never become a he said, she said," he said. "The camera is an impartial witness."
Fansler said officers will be wearing the cameras, which have a 15-hour battery life, during their 12-hour shifts. But, the cameras won't be recording unless the officer pushes a button.
"The officers won't be walking around recording everything 24-7," Fansler said. In most situations, the officers will start the recording when talking with someone, he said.
But, they also use them in other types of situations. Fansler showed one video involving an officer walking through a building at night after an alarm sounded. The officer was able to use infrared settings on the camera to get good footage of the interior of the building. As it turned, there was no burglary.
That the cameras aren't engaged all the time should give assurance to people who would be concerned that their privacy would be invaded without a good reason, he said.
An Associated Press article from last month said that U.S. Justice Department is developing guidelines on when officers should use the camera and how to protect the privacy of people inadvertently caught on the footage.
Fansler said his department is the first in the county to use the cameras. Sebring Police Cmndr. Steve Carr said the Sebring Police Department has yet to consider whether to use the cameras.
Highlands County Chief Deputy Mark Schrader said the office hasn't considered going in that direction. He said there's been some questions raised as to when the cameras should be used.
"It's something that in the future that we may look at," he said.
Lake Placid is being upfront about the cameras, Fansler said.
"I have never believed in being sneaky," he said. By being open that increases trust with the community, Fansler added.
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