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Police seek public input regarding cops and body cameras

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Posted at 7:46 PM, Oct 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-10 21:47:31-04

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah – Police are asking for public input as they consider whether or not to provide officers with body cameras.

Jim Winder, Salt Lake County Sheriff, is considering providing body cameras to officers with the Unified Police Department and deputies with the sheriff’s office.

Winder said it’s a two-step process that starts with policy, and he’s asking the public to help him make it.

"So this is the beginning of the conversation,” he said. “The first question we posed is: Should officers wear them? We're getting overwhelming response that, ‘yes of course.’”

Winder said he wasn’t really surprised to find the majority of citizens are in favor of officer body cameras. He said they are looking for public input that goes beyond simply whether or not to provide the cameras.

He said: "The next series of questions we hope to continue to ask the community is, how should they be deployed? Should all officers wear them? Should they be worn in certain circumstances? How long should we retain some of these records?”

Greg Skordas is a defense attorney in Salt Lake City who has represented police officers as well as civilians in court. He said he can remember when the discussion to install dashboard cameras was the big question.

"Prior to that people were claiming police were saying and doing things, and there was no way to justify--but now we've got these cameras that help us understand what really goes on between officers and people they encounter," he said.

Skordas said it’s only a matter of time before all officers are wearing body cameras, which is a good thing because it provides transparency for both the officer and the citizen.

"Suspects can also have real proof of the conversation, the actions and everything that occurred prior to that--so it's really an effective tool,” Skordas said. “Right now it's sort of the cost and logistics of it that are holding it up.”

Years before his department issued body cameras, Scott List of the West Jordan Police Department asked to be allowed to wear a helmet camera during his shifts. He said he feels safer knowing it’s there, and you should too.

“I’m human,” he said. “We all make mistakes, but I don’t do anything on purpose. I don’t do anything egregious, and that camera protects me just as well as it protects everybody else.”

Winder said the public's exposure to body cameras has really only been for controversial cases, but he stresses the cameras aren't just for dramatic, high-intensity situations.

"The reality is a body cam is supposed to be there to also ensure there's good customer service, good feedback in a variety of ways,” Winder said. “We hope that it does a lot more than just solve tension. We hope it improves quality in law enforcement agencies.”

The Unified Police Department is providing the survey and an article relating to the use of body cameras on their website.

Click here to take the survey.