Domestic violence expert says body cams could help prosecute abusers

Domestic violence expert says body cams could help prosecute abusers

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Could body cams be key witnesses in domestic violence cases?

Loretta Sheehan with the Domestic Violence Action Center thinks so."We need HPD officers who respond to domestic violence or retraining order violations to have the ability to record in its entirety the scene and their investigation," Sheehan told lawmakers at an informational hearing about family violence Tuesday.

Sheehan says body cams would especially help in cases where the victim is not cooperative.

"We can see what eye witnesses might be present, we can see what children might be present and we can see evidence of the disturbance, broken glasses overturned chairs, all this becomes alive with video," she says.

But Honolulu's Police Chief Louis Kealoha told the same panel, the technology still has kinks and is too expensive.

"Body cams aren't that simple, they cost millions and millions of dollars, and we have been looking at that, Ms. Sheehan, and the thing is...I don't want to spend millions and millions of dollars and we buy a faulty product," said Kealoha.

Taser International, which distributes body cams to 1200 police departments, says the products can help police tremendously, especially with family violence calls.

"When you have an officer present for something violent like a domestic assault, you're now recording the results of what happened, the tension, the emotion, the injuries," says Steve Tuttle of Taser International.

He also says the prices have gone down tremendously and won't cost Honolulu nearly as much as Chief Kealoha thinks.

The small, pager style device cost $399 each. Equipping 500 officers would cost about $200,000.

The lip-stick style camera cost $599 each, increasing the total for 500 officers to about $300,000.

Another concern Kealoha had, storage and tampering of the video evidence.

Tuttle says Taser's product uses a docking station which encrypts the video then uploads it to a secure server. He says the video can be accessed online by approved people, like detectives and prosecutors, but cannot be altered or deleted. He says the docking station means officers never have to burn a CD again.

The cost for the storage range from $15 per month to $55 per month, depending on the storage size and warranties. That equates to anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 per year.

"If you can try and experiment with it and let your officers try it, see how they do with it," says Andy Hill, a former Phoenix Police Sergeant. He says over time police departments could fine body cams a good investment. He does see the benefits with domestic violence cases.

Most departments buy 100 body cams at a time to cut costs and many use seized drug money and assets, meaning the devices don't break the budget.

The cameras have critics, especially those worried about privacy issues, but the use of body cams by police departments continues to rise.

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