Thibodaux police officers now wear cameras to protect themselves and the people they serve

Thibodaux police officers now wear cameras to protect themselves and the people they serve
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POSTED: Thursday, December 19, 2013 - 6:00am

UPDATED: Thursday, August 28, 2014 - 12:26am

The Thibodaux Police Department is giving every officer an extra set of eyes.

They are now wearing small cameras that record everything they do when they respond to a call or an incident. It will help them put criminals behind bars, but that is not the only way the cameras will keep people safer.

"It's real great," Patrolman First Class Beau Prejean said, "and they're real easy to work, once you get used to it."

Chief Scott Silverii said he would try to incorporate, "every type of technology that we feel is going to make us work more efficiently, more accountable, and more transparent; ultimately working smarter than hard. [Officers] embrace that technology."

The cameras record video and audio in both day and night conditions. The recording is stored on a disk the officer wears. The disk has several hours of memory, but at the end of each shift, the officer must place it in a secure pod on a supervisors desk. There, it enters the case management system where it follows the same chain of custody procedures as any other piece of evidence.

Silverii believes the cameras will add a layer of accountability to any interactions his officers have with the public.

"You know, this is to provide protection for everyone. For the citizen, to make sure that their words are accurately and completely documented, and that your actions are also justified."

A handful of officers started testing the cameras over the summer. After four months, the department secured a technology grant from the Lorio foundation to equip every patrolling officer. The goal of the cameras is to make sure there is an accurate record of everything that happens on a call.

"It levels the playing field," Silverii claimed. "It eliminates the he said, she said. Some folks have asked, 'well, is it an invasion of privacy to have this camera?' No. It's a documentation tool. You wouldn't ask a police officer to go on duty without a pencil and paper."

Silverii said his is the first police department in the state to utilize wearable cameras, and one of the first in the country. A study of a similar program in Rialto, California showed that the use of force dropped by 50 percent when officers wore them, and complaints fell by 90 percent.

"There may be times where an officer, where the camera he's actually wearing is going to be used to incriminate his behavior," Silverii noted. "And we'll take corrective action and training where that's concerned."

Prejean mentioned that the he had an initial adjustment period with the camera before turning it on became part of his routine. But rather than feel angry that his boss did not trust him, he said he welcomed the addition of the camera to his uniform.

"It only seems like law enforcement's getting better," he stated. "The equipment these days, coming out, it makes your job easier, and it's going to help you out in the long run."

The recordings can also be used for training purposes. NBC33 obtained a copy of the video taken during a traffic stop earlier in the month. While a K-9 unit was inspecting the car, gunshots were heard coming from a couple blocks away. Silverii said they were a diversionary tactic, and he was proud of the way his officers analyzed the situation and kept their composure.

"It would've been easy for the officers to react in a, I don't want to say a panic mode, but an excitability factor, obviously. And when we go back and we watch that video," he pointed out, "their voices remain very calm, very steady. You can hear a supervisor over the radio that gives very capable command instructions."

Silverii, through his roles with the International Association of Police Chiefs and the Police Foundation, said he often communicates with technology companies about ways to improve police work.

"I always say there's only one New York and there's only one LAPD, but there's thousands of Thibodaux Police Departments across the country," he stated. "So we are more representative of the 'everyman agency.' So when we reach out to vendors, or actually, vendors reach out to us quite a bit to beta-test their technology and help build a better product."

Prejean said he only received his camera two weeks ago, so he has not gotten any comments on it yet from citizens. But he hopes it adds to the level of trust they have in him and the rest of the TPD.

"If you've got officers out there that are doing something that they're not supposed to be doing," he said, "it'll catch it, you know?"

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