The use of deadly force by police has dominated national headlines in the past year from Arlington to Baltimore to Ferguson, Mo.
Park Cities cops don’t want to be next, so they’re taking a proactive approach toward ensuring peaceful resolutions to tense conflicts.
The University Park Police Department expects to have all of its officers outfitted with body cameras this fall, following a brief training period. Each cop will be required to test the camera and activate it prior to their shift.
The department has used body cameras for three years on a limited basis, but decided last summer to expand the program.
“We felt it was necessary because it gives the department an extra layer of transparency and an extra layer of accountability,” said UPPD chief Greg Spradlin. “We owe that to our community.”
All Highland Park Department of Public Safety officers started carrying body cameras this summer.
Manufacturers are a bit behind on filling orders from police departments across the country, so UPPD might not get their additional 30 cameras until October, Spradlin said.
Studies have shown use-of-force incidents decrease when body cameras are in use, and Spradlin hopes they can be mutually beneficial to officers and the public. The cameras also can provide crime-scene evidence or lead to arrests in certain cases.
“Cops are frequently the target of complaints, and while some of them are valid, may of them are not, so I owe it to the officers to protect them against those invalid complaints,” he said. “Individuals on both sides of the camera will behave differently when they know the camera is rolling.”
Meanwhile, HPDPS has ordered 50 tasers and a force-options simulator system to enhance de-escalation techniques, and expects to have them in operation by the end of October, after officers are trained in both policies and equipment.
The high-tech tasers include internal computers to document their use, including cameras and video capabilities.
HPDPS Lt. Lance Koppa said former HPDPS chief Chris Vinson, before he died in June, began researching tasers as alternative to lethal force in the field.
“The hope is that when we show up, the mere presence of a police officer helps to calm the scene. The thing that you want to avoid is putting hands on individuals where the other person could get hurt or the officer could get hurt,” Koppa said. “By using a taser, it allows us to have another option that’s less lethal when we have someone who’s being non-compliant or wanting to fight.”
The department also will introduce as part of its routine training operation an interactive simulator with three large screens and up to 800 scenarios stored in a computer. The unit can be tailored to each officer’s daily routine when necessary, even incorporating actual landmarks and locations.
“The scenario allows the officer to walk through an event, and the scenario can be changed by the officer’s interaction. The officer is required to decide how they’re going to respond,” Koppa said. “The goal is to expose our officers to scenarios like this more often, so you can come to a place where the scene is under control. It allows us to put officers in situations that are very stressful so we can see what works and what doesn’t work.”
Koppa said officer-involved shootings in other cities around the country have emphasized the need to prevent such incidents close to home.
“It draws a microscope to law enforcement interaction with people, especially when they’re not armed,” Koppa said. “People want us to be well trained and to make smart decisions so that nobody gets hurt and everybody goes home.”