Behind the Body Cam - Part 1

Published: Feb. 5, 2019 at 6:23 PM EST
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Police in Maine's third largest city are preparing to arm themselves with another crime fighting tool - body cameras.

Half a dozen Bangor officers are testing them now right.

Brewer police just wrapped up a pilot program, too.

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association doesn't keep count of how many law enforcement agencies already use body cameras, but local reports say at least a dozen departments in the state have them on board.

It comes in a climate where the relationship between police and the public can sometimes be strained.


Keith Larby is one of six Bangor police officers who straps on another piece of equipment when he starts his shift.

A body camera, which can be set to record every interaction with the public.

"We always just assume we're being recorded," says Larby. "For the most part, nobody really has an issue with it. It's just part of the job. So it's another tool, just something else I put on my uniform every day."

The goal is to outfit the entire 80-plus person department in next year or so.

"It's basically another set of eyes on a different part of my body," Larby says. "One of the biggest pros for us is very often we get accused of things that never happened. This is going to be proof that we aren't doing those types of things that were being accused of."

"Body cameras will actually enhance our ability to be transparent moving forward. They protect the officers. They protect the public. It can make our cases for prosecution even stronger, " says Sgt. Wade Betters.

Betters says officers are testing two models over the next few weeks.

Brewer police finished up their pilot program with body cameras last month.

"The opinion of most people in the industry, prosecutors, the public, too, is it's inevitable. It's getting to the point now where it's expected that we have more video evidence to show our side of things."

Public Safety Director Jason Moffitt says that idea is even more important in today's society.

"It seems like in this day and age, the police are continually accused of misconduct, things like that, on social media outlets and even sometimes in the mainstream media. Having this evidence available can quickly dispel a lot of rumors after an incident happens," says Moffitt.

But that comes with a price and some limitations. Arming a department the size of Brewer could cost $50,000 to $60,000.

Betters says Bangor's initial start up costs will likely be about three times that.

Those numbers can increase when it comes to keeping all the video that's collected - and whether it's stored on a local server or the cloud, internet-based computers around the world.

The cameras can't capture everything, either, since they're designed to mimic the human eye.

Larby says, "So they don't pick up infrared, they don't have any night vision technology because the purpose of that was being able to see what the officer could see."

Betters says, "It doesn't see as much as the human eye can take in peripheral and other parts. If you turn your head and not your body, the camera doesn't follow you. It doesn't take in the sounds, a smell, a feeling in the air, anything the officer has - his level of experience dealing with this situation. But you will get a pretty decent view of what the camera can see you when you respond to a scene."

Larby says that can still go a long way for those on both sides of the lens.

"It's definitely going to be a good way for us to build that public trust that is missing with some folks."

Police in Bangor and Brewer are also researching other local departments with body cams.

One such place is Orono. Officers there have been wearing the equipment for three years now.

We'll take a look at how body cameras are working for them in Part 2 of "Behind the Body Cam".