Abilene police test body cameras on officers

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ABILENE, Texas - Body cameras are becoming more common in police departments around the nation.

The Houston Police Chief recently requested $8 million to equip their 3,500 officers with body cameras. The Abilene Police Department has been testing out body cameras for the past year.

The department bought 10 VieVu body cameras last year to test out in their special operations division. Two were given to student resource officers and eight were given to the narcotics division.

The VieVu body cameras are put on an officer's chest. But, the department has been looking into Taser Axon Flex body cameras, which mount on an officer's glasses, allowing for better video. The company is currently letting the department borrow four of those cameras to try them out.

Assistant Chief of Uniform Services Mike Perry said there are many positives to using body cameras.

"We like the option of being able to record video away from the car. Even something as simple as a domestic violence call," said Perry. "You actually have the opportunity to go into the home, talk to the victim, see the victim and that's great evidence in court."

But, there are negatives to using body cameras too.

"The problem with body-worn cameras, even the best ones on the market right now, only record the last 30 seconds, so you can only go back and capture the last 30 seconds," said Perry.

Dash cameras record constantly and have a 40-hour buffer.

"The great thing about the car cameras is they have the ability to record all the time," said Perry. "You may see something occur from the car that at the time you didn't know you needed, you can go back and retrieve that video."

There's also a problem that body cameras have to be turned on manually, while the dash cameras can be activated automatically. Dash cameras are triggered by the lights on top of the car, by the siren and even by the speed of the car.

The dash camera can also be turned on manually by a remote or by a button in the car.

But, Perry said their dash cameras are nearing the end of their 5-year service life and police are looking at multiple different vendors for body cameras. The cost of upgrading their dash cameras or purchasing more body cameras is a high cost.

The department does currently have funds allocated to upgrade cameras, but they are still trying to weigh the pros and cons of both. A single dash camera costs $5,000, while a body camera costs $1,000.

Even though the body cameras seem cheaper, some come with monthly fees or even require higher-bandwidth to upload video which the department doesn't currently have.

Whether the department purchases the dash camera or body cameras, the cost will be $500,000 over the course of 5 years.

Perry said this technology is the future of police departments.

"Ultimately I see the day coming that every officer will be issued a personal-worn body camera," said Perry.

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