2017-12-21 / Front Page

Cops to get body cameras

‘If they can record us, we should be able to record them’
By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Biddeford police officers will soon be required to wear body cameras amid a growing move toward the technology’s use, despite a minority detracting voice.

Police Chief Roger Beaupre said every officer will be required to wear a device. The cameras are attached by pins and magnets below either the right or left shoulder and are able to record up to nine hours of continuous highdefinition video. After the devices are ordered and staff is trained, officers should be equipped with cameras in three to four months, said Deputy Chief JoAnne Fisk.

Councilors voted 6-1 Tuesday, Dec. 12 to spend $47,040 on 30 body cameras and charging equipment from WatchGuard, a Texas-based mobile video company. Councilors Robert Quattrone and Laura Seaver were not present and Ward 1 Councilor Michael Swanton was the single vote against the measure.

Beaupre said video cameras in patrol cars were introduced in the 1980s to help combat drunk driving. The original equipment recorded onto VHS tapes before the use of DVDs, and now all video is recorded digitally. Beaupre said the purchase of body cameras will also come with 10 terabytes more of storage space. He said video unrelated to an arrest is deleted after 30 days except for certain events related to investigative cases, which are deleted after 180 days. Fisk declined to comment on what those specific cases might be. Video that leads to an arrest is never deleted.

“Now the trend by the courts is if you didn’t record it, you don’t have video, it didn’t happen,” Beaupre said. “They started to demand more and more video of interchanges officers have in either investigating crime or making an arrest.”

Swanton said he felt uncomfortable with the police department’s storage of the videos. No members of the public were present to comment on the matter.

“I don’t approve of this,” Swanton said. “It seems that police officers are afraid to make mistakes. They make half the arrests they used to. I’m concerned the chief of police will never ever delete anything ever recorded by any officer ever until the end of time. I hate big brother watching over me.”

Beaupre said that while it may seem like an increase in surveillance, most businesses, hospitals and airports have constant video recordings of their interiors and premises.

“Virtually all stores in Biddeford that sell a product have a recording device,” he said. “We get their recordings to charge somebody with either shoplifting or theft. So if you’re concerned about surveillance, don’t go shopping.”

Beaupre also said the use of body cameras is a response to the proliferation of modern phones which have video recording capabilities. He said one camera angle often fails to portray the entire story.

“It’s not like sitting there one Sunday afternoon watching NFL sports, having 16 different angles of the same event that gives you a different version of what went on,” Beaupre said. “I am not aware of anyone that doesn’t have some type of device able to record video. If they can record us, we should be able to record them.”

A 2015 report from The Constitution Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit think tank, details how the use of body cameras by law enforcement stemmed from several high profile police shootings within the past decade. According to the report, there isn’t enough research available to fully understand the effects of body camera use, and adjustments to implementation will be necessary.

“Further empirical research on the effects of body-worn cameras is vital,” according to the report. “Research should include citizen surveys to capture perceptions of the technology and its effect on trust in law enforcement.”

South Portland police officers are required to wear body cameras, and Portland officers will soon join them. Beaupre said video evidence is becoming common because it is so difficult to refute.

“I believe Biddeford accounts for 60 percent of all cases brought in the state of Maine district attorney in York County,” he said. “I think statewide the Biddeford court is only second to Portland as far as volumes of cases they handle. They’re so used to our product of video for everything. It makes them hinky when we don’t produce. We’re trying to fill that void before they mandate it. I can see the writing on the wall. As cases are funneled to the court it’s a good practice to have video.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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