Criminal Justice

Body Cameras Already Rolling in the Region

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By: Hilary Powell

December 5, 2014— “We’re here to help you, I promise you that,” Jason Preaschek tells a visibly flustered woman holding a pack of prescription pills.

They’re both standing on the side of a busy road in Porter Co.

The interaction between these two people— a Porter County sergeant and a distraught citizen— is captured by a third party. It’s not a person; it’s a piece of equipment.

“It’s no different than any other piece of equipment I have,” Preaschek says. “I subconsciously turn it on and off without any issue and I pay no attention to it.”

The Porter Co. Sheriff’s Dept. has been testing the model for four months.

The body camera is smaller than the palm of his hand but Jason Preaschek says the technology can preserve the truth.
“It’s benefitted me when writing reports,” he says, “looking back on how I handled the situation, tactically. We can see how officers do things on calls. And then we can say ‘hey that wasn’t, you know, the best thing’ and maybe we can do it differently down the road.”

A lesson some body camera supporters say matters after a July fatal encounter between NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo and an unarmed man, Eric Garner, was caught on a citizen camera.

Back in the region after being one of five mayors at a community policing forum at the White House, Gary mayor Karen Freeman Wilson says she’s in support of more body cameras to protect officers.

“Law enforcement officers have the right to expect to come home,” she says. “We can ensure that there are no other officers killed like this year in Northwest Indiana. Officer Westerfield, Officer Schultz. But at the same time, all officers and all of law enforcement functions in a way that is consistent with the constitution.”

That’s a problem for all of us.

President Barack Obama announced his plan to make 50,000 body cameras available to police departments across the country.

Chief Patricia Nowak of the Indiana University Northwest police department hopes her force is one of them.

“I want our officers to be to have as much as they can as many tools in their toolbox as they can so that the right decision can be made.”

After a New York grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo after his chokehold caused Garner’s death, some people say cameras won’t matter even if they catch alleged wrongdoing.
ACLU Indiana executive director Jane Henegar says body camera benefits outnumber the cons.

“The way that’s it’s played out in communities that have already started using body cameras, that the benefits outweigh the costs,” she says, “but we want to be sure that policies are adopted to protect the liberty interests of the people who police have interactions with.”

There are still privacy issues to work out. Indiana’s a one-party consent state so only the officer has to know the camera is rolling.

For example, I didn’t know the camera had caught my image in the interview until I was told.

“This is way more intimate, because the cars can’t go into somebody’s house,” Preaschek says. “You have access to everything in their house. Anything I see, for the most part, you’re going to see.”

Experts also caution that even a body camera can’t tell the full story.

“It doesn’t see it the way a human actually sees it. It can’t be the total investigation,” Nowak says.

Novak says in her experience, body camera footage has exonerated officers by providing a record where there’s conflicting accounts.

“When you see that camera, it’s not the exact same thing the officer’s seeing, or hearing or smelling or feeling,” Preaschek says.

Legal experts say they expect more Hoosier citizens to be captured on film in the future as privacy issues are confronted.

“Technology has great capacity so if we think that there are ways that we need to controls on off switch certain circumstances when the body camera needs to go off, I bet we can find out a logical way to address those concerns,” Henegar says. “I would love to go the rest of my career with a camera, and I can see us eventually going to most officers are wearing them.”

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