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City Council To Vote For Police Body Cameras

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

Monday night the Charlotte City Council will vote on whether to equip every member of the city’s police force with a body camera.

The vote will be to approve a $7 million contract with Taser International – a company best known for selling stun guns. But in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson and the choking death of Eric Garner in New York, more and more police forces are turning to Taser for their body cameras and video storage systems.

Taser says its cameras will be upgraded later this year to start recording automatically when a stun gun is turned on by an officer or when police sirens are flashing.

But for now officers will decide when to turn on their own body cameras.

At a recent briefing to the Charlotte City Council, Major Stephen Willis laid out when that would happen, "Traffic stops, stop and frisks, arrest situations, uses of force."

A citizen can also ask an officer to start recording, although an officer can deny that request.

Current police policy dictates the body cameras will be turned off once an officer deems an incident switches to an investigatory phase. This, the police say, is a cost saving measure since North Carolina law requires video evidence be preserved for 20 years in some situations.

The Council and police hope body cameras will help build public trust in the force. And Major Willis says they have had an effect in North Carolina, "Anecdotally I can tell you in Greensboro they’ve seen an 80 percent decrease in citizen complaints."

That anecdote is not supported by numbers. Data provided by the Greensboro Police department shows the number of complaints dropped by 45 percent in 2013, the first year body cameras were used. The number of citizen complaints rose in 2014 but it’s still down 31 percent compared to two years ago.

Charlotte police say the body camera videos will not be considered public records, or be accessible to the general public. A move, they say, to protect the privacy of officers and civilians alike.