By Rosemary K. Otzman
On March 12, the Sumpter Township Board of Trustees agreed that high-tech pocket gadgets that record video and audio away from the patrol car would be a good addition to police department equipment.
The board voted unanimously to approve a grant application prepared by Police Lt. Eric Luke for five FirstVuHD devices.
Burnham & Flower insurance agency offers grants of $5,000 for equipment to cut a police department’s liability and the township was hoping to get one of these grants to pay for the five devices.
This was the first time the township applied for a Burnham & Flower grant and — they won the grant.
Then-Lt. Luke, who is now Captain Luke, announced at the Aug. 13 meeting that the township had obtained its grant and will get its officer-worn cameras.
In October the devices arrived and police officers donned their new cameras.
The cameras were discussed at length at a March board meeting.
Police Chief Jim Pierce said his officers have audio devices in the patrol cars, but when the officer goes away from the car or inside a house, sometimes the audio is lost. The video shows just what’s in front of the patrol car.
“Video helps with disputes,” Chief Pierce said. For example, he said a lady claimed an officer did or said something inappropriate and after she saw the video of the incident, she apologized.
This new device will protect the township and officers from false claims, he said.
Board members questioned whether it was an invasion of privacy to go into a home wearing a video recorder, but Luke said police can record anything they are involved in.
He said, “I don’t think we’re obligated in Michigan [to announce we are recording], as long as one person knows it is being recorded … We have dash cams, but once the officers gets out, the audio only goes up to 1,000 feet and the video is only what’s in front of the car…”
Luke said if he is in a house there is no audio when a person with a knife comes at him. If he takes deadly force, the video would show why he took the action he did.
The equipment is about the size of a cell phone and goes in the pocket with a wire on the shirt and 16 hours worth of battery life.
When questions persisted on officers being in a house without a warrant, township attorney Rob Young said officers are only expected to be in a house after being invited in or while serving a warrant.
Young said the camera provides as much protection to the defendant as it does to the police officer. “It cuts both ways,” he said.
Questions persisted about people wanting to give the police crime tips off the record, but Chief Pierce stated, “It protects my officers and we’re not going to turn them off.”
“Can I ask you to turn it off?” asked Trustee Alan Bates.
“You can ask, but we won’t turn it off,” Luke said, adding something could happen just as soon as it is off. He noted that the equipment has just gone HD and he predicted it will be seen in police departments across the country.
Luke said there is an anonymous tip line on the department’s website for those who want to give information without giving their names.
“This isn’t trying to invade anybody’s privacy,” Luke said.
“And, it will save the township a lot of money,” Chief Pierce added.
By Rosemary K. Otzman