MORE EYES ON THE ROAD: GPD issues body cameras to officers

Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche demonstrates the new body camera, which is fitted under a uniform shirt. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Standing at the back of the Greenfield Police Department patrol car, Chief Jeff Rasche pointed into the trunk of the vehicle to show the hard-drive unit for the new camera gear being installed.

“This is the brain for the whole system where the sim card will be stored,” Rasche said.

The department is paying $107,000 annually to BodyWorn by Utility Inc., a security service based in Atlanta, to provide body cameras for its officers. GPD’s adoption of the new technology reflects a growing trend among police departments who are increasingly using it to document their interactions.

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Hardware is being installed in 37 police cars, and 54 officers will be personally equipped with the latest-technology cameras, which will fit in the front of their uniforms.

“It’s become an expectation from the community, the courts, the jury and prosecutors for us to have video,” Rasche said. “If we don’t have video, some people don’t think it happened.”

Rasche also likes the officer-safety element of the system, which offers features such as a GPS system that will allow dispatchers and the chief to know where officers are.

“That’s a great safety feature,” Rasche said.

When a is camera recording, the video is uploaded to the system live so the chief can sit at his desk and check whenever one of his officers is on a run.

“We’ll be able to use these on SWAT incidents, you name it,” Rasche said. “It’s a huge tool in our tool box to help tell our story.”

If an officer is prone; pulls out a weapon; shots are fired; or when emergency lights are activated in the car, the system comes online. Alerts will go out when needed.

“When an officer is going on a call, and they get within a 1,000 feet of that call, the system will automatically kick in,” deputy chief Brian Hartman said.

The new system is expected to be installed and operational, this week. It will provide law enforcement with a higher quality of video from every run that will then be kept in a cloud storage system, off site, which is part of the service the department is paying for annually.

“It’s just going to be a huge asset to our police department and for sharing purposes,” Rasche said.

The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department was actually the first in the county to look into the BodyWorn system and order it, but their units will not be installed until July, said Capt. Robert Harris, public information officer for the department.

Once their units are installed, the two departments, who’ve always worked together, will be able to share video within minutes. They’ll also be able to share video with other county agencies, with the prosecutor’s office and attorneys.

“We can share with a click of a button,” Rasche said. “We’ll no longer have to burn a DVD.”

The department used to spend more than 20 hours a week burning DVDs of dash-cam recordings, but that chore has been eliminated.

Rasche admits he at first had a hard time asking the city to spend over $100,000 each year for the service, but in the end determined along with the mayor and city council having the state-of-the-art system was needed to help keep the community safe.

“Yes, it’s a lot of money, but this system can help save a lawsuit or an officer’s life,” Rasche said. “The value, you can’t hold a candle to the $107,000.”

In addition to the hard drive control unit installed into the back of each police vehicle, officers will have a control panel from which they can monitor their car camera, which points toward the road; a back-seat passenger camera, and their own uniform camera.

The vendor is responsible for the maintenance, care and replacement of all gear including getting the department the newest camera technology every 36 months.

Rasche feels fortunate his department, one of two largest law enforcement agencies in the county, is able to have the latest in police camera gear and thanked the city council and Mayor Chuck Fewell for their support.

“Our guys are excited to use this,” Rasche said. “They can even go back and watch what they’ve been a part of to help file their reports.”