The General Assembly passed a bill in 2016 that limited what footage from police body cameras would be made available to the public record. However, citizens affected by police action may request to view the film if they come to the agency that holds the footage, Blackwood said.
The sheriff said he is responsible for all actions of his deputies and this responsibility weighs on him. Jennifer Galassi, the sheriff’s legal adviser, said the cameras will help him maintain proper accountability of his force.
“We’ll use the recordings as a training tool to improve officer safety as well to spot-check the interactions that our officers have with the public,” she said.
Blackwood said other law enforcement agencies across the country hoped for similar results after adopting body cameras, but some saw the opposite effect when footage revealed officers acting inappropriately.
He said he is confident his department's use of body cameras will have the intended effect of fostering understanding and trust with the community it serves. He said he thinks the high standards the N.C. Department of Justice holds for law enforcement agencies and officers will serve to prevent misconduct.
Still, Blackwood said he initially had hesitations before he understood the benefits the cameras could bring to his force and the community.
“The main reason I didn’t want to employ them at first is because I didn’t think we had any problem,” he said.
Other local law enforcement agencies have already adopted body cameras. UNC Police has worn body cameras since 2015, and the Chapel Hill Police Department began using them in 2016. Sgt. Jordan Armstrong of the Carrboro Police Department said in an email his department has seen a positive effect both on officer morale and on relationships with the citizens of Carrboro after adopting the cameras earlier this year.
“In my own personal experience both as an officer and an assistant supervisor, I’ve seen the footage captured on (body cameras) assist with dismissing frivolous and false complaints, corroborate officer and citizen accounts of incidents, be excellent evidence gatherers on all types of calls for service and prove to have a calming effect for both officers and suspects (or) involved parties on calls for service,” Armstrong said in an email.
Armstrong said most of the issues with the body cameras came during the learning period shortly after their adoption. Now, he believes most, if not all, of his fellow officers see the cameras as a valuable asset.
“Yes, there were concerns initially, but it is hard to be dissatisfied as a police officer with a tool when it provides such a large amount of evidentiary value,” Armstrong said.
The department will use the Motorola Si500 Body Camera. Motorola designed the Si500 for use by law enforcement agencies, and Blackwood’s force has already received initial training on its implementation.