Berlin Approves Body Cameras For Police Officers

BERLIN – Body cameras will soon be used by the Berlin Police Department.

The department is moving forward with plans to outfit patrol officers with body cameras from Axon Enterprise Inc. following approval from the town council last week. Police Chief Arnold Downing expects the cameras, which should be in use by the end of the year, to benefit both the public and the department.

“It’s a way to provide transparency,” Downing said. “For us, it’s an opportunity to collect evidence. Video has been found one of the best ways to say how it happened.”

Downing presented town officials with a request to approve the $36,751.50 contract with Axon last week after an extensive review of body camera options. Downing said he was anxious to get contract approval so the town could pursue a $5,000 grant being offered by LGIT.

He said capital cost of the proposed system was slightly less than $12,000 and that annual maintenance and storage would cost approximately $6,300, bringing the five-year cost to $36,751.50.

“Currently Salisbury, Wicomico, Fruitland and Snow Hill all utilize this platform,” Downing said. “They’re the only body cameras in the tri-county area.”

He said the system featured cloud-based storage so the video footage could easily be accessed.

“We don’t have to hold it within the Berlin Police Department,” Downing said. “The plus is the state’s attorney can grab what they need, they don’t have to physically grab a copy from us.”

He said that while his office had already researched and tried the equipment the body cameras would not be up and running until the department developed a formal policy addressing their use.

In addition to increasing transparency and potentially providing key evidence, Downing said body camera footage would help officers critique their actions.

“We’ll have the opportunity to do self-review, so officers can see if they could have done something better,” Downing said.

Downing said that some agencies have found body cameras to reduce misconduct complaints and use of force incidents. The Berlin Police Department has averaged six use of force incidents per year during the last eight years and averaged less than two complaints against officers in the same time frame.

“With such low numbers of use of force incidents and complaints against officers, these numbers cannot be realistically expected to decrease with the addition of body cameras,” Downing wrote in a report to the town council. “In fact, with random review of the body camera recordings the number of agency generated complaints will more than likely increase initially.”

The primary benefit of the body cameras is expected to be less investigation time and overall expenses related complaints and use of force incidents. Town Administrator Laura Allen said the cameras would be more effective than the department’s in-car cameras.

“There are limitations with the in-car cameras,” she said. “When they get out of the vehicle, depending on how they’re positioned, the camera in the car may or may not pick up what they’re doing and their actions. … The chief is going to use it as a learning tool but it’s also a way of keeping them safe that way, if God forbid something happens to them, then we’ve got a record of their interactions and we’ve got something that we can work with.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

Alternative Text

Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.