Behind the Body Cam - Part 2

ORONO, Maine (WABI) - Police in Orono are now marking three years on patrol with body cameras.

As law enforcement in Bangor and Brewer test out the equipment, they're also looking to those Orono officers for feedback.

The Orono police chief says they can expect a bit of a learning curve - and whole lot more.
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Evidence that could boost a potential domestic violence case.

Proof of a quick response to a car crash.

All caught by Orono Police on body cameras.

"Allow your officers to trust this system. Allow them to use them, not feel like they're just being scrutinized for their behavior all the time. Let them realize that this is going to benefit them. They are going to be thankful that they had those cameras on."

Police Chief Josh Ewing says adding body cameras three years ago has helped officers and the public in a lot of ways.

From addressing complaints about police treatment.

"We can walk right in and pull up the body camera, invite those people in to say would you like to watch this with us because were not seeing what you are. And they typically don't want to come in and watch," Ewing says.

To capturing the behavior of an out-of-control subject.

Ewing says getting used to the equipment took a little time - mostly remembering to turn the cameras on and off.

But now, it's part of life on the job.

Before Officer Sam Irish joined the department two years ago, he worked for the UMaine Police Department which also has body cameras.

Even a routine traffic stop is captured.

"You have that rolling footage of every incident you're in, and it really helps at settle a lot of questions as to what occurred," Irish says.

Ewing says the officers have learned first hand about the limitations of the cameras, too, like placement and lighting.

"So if the gun came out and they drew and they are facing a threat, the threat is now obscured by their hands on the gun."

Captain Dan Merrill says, "It's not as dark as it appears on the camera when we're actually doing all that stuff because there's no infrared technology that we have yet built into the cameras. It looks a lot darker than it actually is."

The public also needs to understand those limits.

"It tends to give the public this idea that everything we do is going to be captured on video perfectly and they can objectively look at what might've occurred," Ewing says. "They're not perfect. They're just one more one more aspect of showing what we do."

As the technology changes, the cameras are only expected to get better, which Irish says will just add to the benefits.

"I wouldn't do it without one," Irish says. "Obviously our job is really dynamic and anything can and will happen. There's always a question of sometimes complaints or how was something handled and with the body camera there, the answer is provided. You can see in living color how it was handled."

Officers in Bangor and Brewer say the overall feeling is that the public wants police to have the body cams, too.

But the cost can be a challenge. Orono spent about $20,000 on the equipment three years ago. Bangor's expected to pay more than $150,000 for start up. And that doesn't always cover the price to store all of that video.

In fact, some smaller departments across the country have recently cancelled their body cam programs because of the cost, so police in Maine are mindful of that, too.