NEW RICHMOND -- Wherever you are, take a seat and look straight ahead. Try to make a mental photo of all that you are seeing. Now close your eyes and try to remember all of the main features you were seeing just a minute ago.
Cover your right eye with one hand and open your left eye. Compare what you see with just your left eye open with what you were seeing with both eyes open. Are you seeing only half of the story, half of the scene?
Now open both eyes. You are back to seeing the whole picture. Or are you?
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The “whole” picture actually wraps all the way around you, behind you as well as above and below what you can see with your two eyes looking straight ahead. That “whole” picture is also informed by what you are hearing at that moment and maybe even by what you are smelling.
For the past couple months, the officers of the New Richmond Police Department have been working with the newest tool in their arsenal, one that can provide another perspective on the many daily stories that are arrests, apprehensions, investigations and pursuits: a body camera.
“People need to know is that cameras aren’t perfect. As we’re sitting here today, if I have this camera and we’re having a conversation and something smashes out the window, the camera doesn’t capture what just smashed out the window. It doesn’t capture odor coming out of a vehicle. It doesn’t capture the smell of marijuana, or alcohol, and it’s a different angle than what an officer sees,” New Richmond Police Chief Craig Yehlik said. "But what it does have is better vision in the dark than I have with my own eyes."
The temptation is for people to think that a body camera provide the see-all, tell-all evidence. It is only one piece of the story, one limited perspective. But it is a perspective that up until recently, the public and the officers themselves have never had access to, a blow-by-blow, second-by-second account of an officer’s and often a suspect or victim’s actions during an arrest or other police action.
“People really need to keep in mind, the cameras are a tool. We like to think that they protect the officers and that they protect the citizens in a number of different ways. It provides transparency. Hopefully it will help us build on the support we already have from the citizens of New Richmond. This is one more step to show that we are in it for them,” Yehlik said.
One distinct advantage Yehlik sees coming from the use of body cameras is specific training officers could receive over time based on video of how specific types of incidents are handled to handle those incidents more successfully.
A camera cannot feel someone tense up in handcuffs. Body cameras have a limited field of view and cannot zoom in or out on a particular situation. There is no perfect place to wear a body camera. An officer’s movements are bound to block the camera at some point. So positioning the camera is left up to each officer’s discretion.
Officers have to learn how to work with their cameras, how to incorporate them into their muscle memory and the protocol for each action. But one rule supersedes all others: Officer safety comes first.
The learning curve is about learning how to obtain the best information without sacrificing officer safety.
The camera can also be customized in a number of ways including when it starts recording.
The New Richmond system allows an officer to sync his camera with his squad car so that it automatically begins recording as soon as he leaves the vehicle. The camera can be turned on and off manually at any time.
An officer can tag a video while it is being taken. If during the pursuit of a suspect, the suspect tosses an item away, the officer can electronically tag that moment or spot in the video. Later when officers review the video, they can come back to that specific spot and take a closer look to see what was tossed.
Body and squad car camera system signals are unique so when multiple jurisdictions are working together on an investigation, signals from one department will not interfere or be shared by any other department.
Near the end of a shift, the officer places the camera in its cradle and video is automatically downloaded to the cloud storage server.
Officers have to review their footage make sure it is properly classified and to determine what needs to be saved.
Yehli said the department must comply with security requirements set by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
He said appreciates the public’s perception of the new cameras’ role in the pursuit of justice. He hopes citizens will recognize it is just one part of telling the story and that the whole story includes much more information and impacts the lives of officers and victims.
“We’re all human and we’ll get better with time and practice,” said Yehlik.