Five months into a Baton Rouge Police Department body camera pilot program, Chief Carl Dabadie says the officers in the First District have captured more than 12,000 videos.
Nevertheless, four of the roughly 60 officers assigned to wear the cameras have been disciplined for failing to record encounters, Dabadie said Tuesday evening at a public forum the MLK Community Center.
Still, he said, that’s a low number, given the hours logged since the program began in October.
“People are loving the fact that the officers are using the cameras,” Dabadie said.
Dabadie said people are telling him that officers seem more professional and friendlier while wearing the cameras.
The footage from the cameras also has helped in a number of investigations, Dabadie said, including a fatal Feb. 13 shootout that wounded two Baton Rouge policemen and left the suspected shooter dead.
The confrontation was captured on dashboard cameras in police patrol cars and by officer-worn body cameras, something that East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III told The Advocate last month clearly illustrated the officers were justified in firing their weapons.
Though Dabadie said officers are able to switch off the body cameras or fail to turn them on, supervisors are alerted to that fact.
The department is still working through policy issues — including a contentious and as-yet unsettled debate about whether to allow officers to review body camera footage before writing reports — but BRPD officials said after Tuesday’s meeting the body cameras are here to stay.
“I don’t see us ever turning back from body cameras,” said Lt. Jonny Dunnam, a police spokesman.
Once the pilot program ends in August, Dunnam said, the Police Department will consider when to begin issuing body cameras to officers in other districts and members of special units.
Though the first criminal cases using footage from body cameras are just working their way through the court system, Dunnam said the videos serve as evidence in a wide range of cases, from insurance claims in civil court to officer shootings.
But questions lingered for a handful residents at Tuesday’s forum over just how the body cameras are used in practice — and some expressed a degree of skepticism that officers could always be trusted to use the cameras correctly.
Constance Randolph, a north Baton Rouge resident and a former police officer, said it will come down to whether the department and the city-parish’s body camera committee craft effective policies.
“Are we just going to trust the police officers?” Randolph asked outside after the meeting.
Shift supervisors and investigators can tell if officers have turned off their cameras, Dabadie said, and the computer server is designed to prevent tampering with or editing the footage.
Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.