METHUEN (CBS) – Video from police body cameras have captured incredible scenes around the country and created many controversies. This may be why many Massachusetts departments have been reluctant to adopt the technology.
Only one major city is using them in the state, and Cheryl Fiandaca went along for a ride to find out why Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon believes they are an asset to his force.
The view from Detective Dave Souther’s body camera shows the inside of his cruiser as he races toward the scene of the crash.
The first officer to respond to the scene told him the driver was speeding.
“He went flying by us and we were about to stop him when he heard ‘boom,’” the officer said describing the moment the car rear ended a pickup truck.
The incident landed the driver in the back of a cruiser, under arrest for drunk driving. Souther tried to talk to the driver asking, “Do you want to tell me what happened tonight?” But the driver said no.
The Methuen Police Department is the first in Massachusetts to get body cameras. All 63 officers have been wearing them for nearly a year, but they’re expensive and some police unions don’t want them.
Fiandaca asked Chief Solomon if there was a downside to the video recording.
“The major one is money and officers wondering if you’re second guessing them,” he said.
But there was no second guessing by the department as they let the I-Team ride along with officers so we could see what they see. At a traffic stop Detective Souther activated his blue lights and the camera turned on.
He asked the driver for his license and registration and told him, “I’m going to advise you that you’re being audio and video recorded.”
According to Chief Solomon the video becomes an independent witness to the stop. “I think we have the whole scenario from buffering before it started to closure. Not only do we have the whole story. What you say and do is recorded,” he explained.
To be sure all of the interactions are recorded, Methuen police have their cameras set up to automatically turn on when an officer activates the cruiser’s blue lights or takes out the Taser.
Fiandaca asked Detective Souther if that makes him act any differently. “It doesn’t,” he replied. “If you treat them with respect, they will treat you with respect.”
Since June of 2016, the department has recorded more than 25,000 videos, capturing more than 4,000 hours of interactions.
The transparency demanded by the public has also helped exonerate 4 officers accused of unprofessional conduct.
According to Chief Solomon, one of those incidents involved a woman who complained about an officer being discourteous. The chief said when he told her the whole interaction was on tape and told her exactly what the video showed, he says she stopped responding to his emails.
Solomon says to safeguard the integrity of what’s recorded, the video is downloaded to a system that does not allow officers to edit or delete their interactions.
Methuen’s cameras were paid for by the city and a state grant and will cost about $275,000 over five years.
Chief Solomon is now looking into buying dash cams for the department’s cruisers.