St. Louis County police to put body cameras on officers (

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • Within two weeks, about half of St. Louis County police officers will be recording every call for service using tiny video cameras on their chests, glasses or collars.

Several companies are lending free technology to police departments in hope of landing lucrative contracts in an industry that surged after a national outcry about the Ferguson police shooting. In St. Louis County, 188 police officers will be using cameras in the north and central county precincts, as well as in Jennings and Dellwood.

About two dozen officers from the county police received cameras and training on Tuesday. Chief Jon Belmar said his goal is to have all 465 patrol officers wearing them as soon as possible.

For the next 90 days, the department will experiment with different types of cameras and approaches. Some officers will be assigned cameras, some will share among shifts. The experience will help officials decide which devices to buy, and how many.

“Given the events in Ferguson and the skepticism that’s been directed at law enforcement, we have to take steps to ensure the public trust,” Belmar said.

Noting the wide prevalence of surveillance and cellphone video, he added, “There are cameras on us all the time. Why wouldn’t we want to take advantage of this and make sure it’s in context?”

The devices cost from $300 to $700. Belmar said his department likely will use money seized from criminals to buy them.

“This is something that should have happened years ago, but didn’t because of funding restraints,” he said.

St. Louis County will be among the largest police forces in the country to deploy the technology to all its officers. The New York City police announced a pilot project last week. Ferguson police began using donated body cameras after Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown about a month ago.

Some departments have used cameras for years, and research shows they result in fewer citizen complaints and fewer use-of-force incidents, said Michael White, a criminologist at Arizona State University.

White wrote a report on body cameras for the Department of Justice in August 2013.

“There seems to be a civilizing effect,” White said. “We don’t know exactly what happens during encounters, but an officer wearing a camera changes people’s behavior and the officer is less likely to be rude and aggressive. My question is, whose behavior is changing? Is it the officer or the citizen changing?”

Said Gabe Crocker, president of the St. Louis County Police Association: “Not only will police officers be held accountable, but the public will be held accountable, too.”


For some county officers like Jim Monroe, who patrols Dellwood, this marks the second foray into recording technology. He remembers when the department equipped patrol cars with dashboard cameras. Those devices disappeared after maintenance proved too costly.

Most dashboard cameras are wired to come on with the warning lights. Body cameras run continually but keep only the previous half-minute of video until manually activated. So an officer who pushes the button records from that point plus the previous 30 seconds.

Belmar said he wants officers to record every time they respond to a call, but he realizes they might forget, or may not have time when something unexpected happens.

Sean Burbach admitted that some fellow officers seemed resistant before Tuesday’s training. He said learning about safeguards that prevent officers and supervisors from tampering with the stored video helped ease a lot of the reservations.

He also liked technology intended to capture what an officer sees and hears without enhancements such as night vision. “Instead of watching it and saying, ‘Why didn’t you see this or hear that,’ it will help show our perspective,” Burbach said.

Reflecting upon the sometimes controversial deployment of county police at riots that followed the Ferguson shooting, Burbach said, “If our officers had cameras during the Ferguson incident, it would have offered our perception of events as they occurred toward us.”

How and where the accumulated video is stored are factors police leaders must weigh, White noted. Some systems link to “cloud” storage, with data kept offsite for a monthly fee. Other systems use local storage, at significant cost for hardware and personnel.

“Agencies have been satisfied with the data storage solution, but there are always those who say, ‘It’s only a matter of time before some smart hacker finds a way around the system,’” White noted.

St. Louis County officers have been told not to use the cameras until the department finalizes its storage policy.

St. Louis city police have about 100 dashboard cameras and are considering using body cameras.


Wearable Video Cameras, for Police Officers (, 4/16/13)

rialto14n-7-webHERE’S a fraught encounter: one police officer, one civilian and anger felt by one or both. Afterward, it may be hard to sort out who did what to whom.

Now, some police departments are using miniaturized video cameras and their microphones to capture, in full detail, officers’ interactions with civilians. The cameras are so small that they can be attached to a collar, a cap or even to the side of an officer’s sunglasses. High-capacity battery packs can last for an extended shift. And all of the videos are uploaded automatically to a central server that serves as a kind of digital evidence locker.

William A. Farrar, the police chief in Rialto, Calif., has been investigating whether officers’ use of video cameras can bring measurable benefits to relations between the police and civilians. Officers in Rialto, which has a population of about 100,000, already carry Taser weapons equipped with small video cameras that activate when the weapon is armed, and the officers have long worn digital audio recorders.

But when Mr. Farrar told his uniformed patrol officers of his plans to introduce the new, wearable video cameras, “it wasn’t the easiest sell,” he said, especially to some older officers who initially were “questioning why ‘big brother’ should see everything they do.”

He said he reminded them that civilians could use their cellphones to record interactions, “so instead of relying on somebody else’s partial picture of what occurred, why not have your own?” he asked. “In this way, you have the real one.”

Last year, Mr. Farrar used the new wearable video cameras to conduct a continuing experiment in his department, in collaboration with Barak Ariel, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge and an assistant professor at Hebrew University.

Half of Rialto’s uniformed patrol officers on each week’s schedule have been randomly assigned the cameras, also made by Taser International. Whenever officers wear the cameras, they are expected to activate them when they leave the patrol car to speak with a civilian.

A convenient feature of the camera is its “pre-event video buffer,” which continuously records and holds the most recent 30 seconds of video when the camera is off. In this way, the initial activity that prompts the officer to turn on the camera is more likely to be captured automatically, too.

THE Rialto study began in February 2012 and will run until this July. The results from the first 12 months are striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.

Rialto’s police officers also used force nearly 60 percent less often — in 25 instances, compared with 61. When force was used, it was twice as likely to have been applied by the officers who weren’t wearing cameras during that shift, the study found. And, lest skeptics think that the officers with cameras are selective about which encounters they record, Mr. Farrar noted that those officers who apply force while wearing a camera have always captured the incident on video.

As small as the cameras are, they seem to be noticeable to civilians, he said. “When you look at an officer,” he said, “it kind of sticks out.” Citizens have sometimes asked officers, “Hey, are you wearing a camera?” and the officers say they are, he reported.

But what about the privacy implications? Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, says: “We don’t like the networks of police-run video cameras that are being set up in an increasing number of cities. We don’t think the government should be watching over the population en masse.” But requiring police officers to wear video cameras is different, he says: “When it comes to the citizenry watching the government, we like that.”

Mr. Stanley says that all parties stand to benefit — the public is protected from police misconduct, and officers are protected from bogus complaints. “There are many police officers who’ve had a cloud fall over them because of an unfounded accusation of abuse,” he said. “Now police officers won’t have to worry so much about that kind of thing.”

Mr. Farrar says officers have told him of cases when citizens arrived at a Rialto police station to file a complaint and the supervisor was able to retrieve and play on the spot the video of what had transpired. “The individuals left the station with basically no other things to say and have never come back,” he said.

The A.C.L.U. does have a few concerns about possible misuse of the recordings. Mr. Stanley says civilians shouldn’t have to worry that a video will be leaked and show up on CNN. Nor would he approve of the police storing years of videos and then using them for other purposes, like trolling for crimes with which to charge civilians. He suggests policies specifying that the videos be deleted after a certain short period.

A spokesman for Taser International said it had received orders from various police departments, including those in Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Hartford, as well as Fort Worth, Tex.; Chesapeake, Va.; and Modesto, Calif. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the police department of BART, the transit system, has bought 210 cameras and is training its officers in their use, part of changes undertaken after a BART police officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed man in 2009.

Before the cameras, “there were so many situations where it was ‘he said, she said,’ and juries tend to believe police officers over accused criminals,” Mr. Stanley says. “The technology really has the potential to level the playing field in any kind of controversy or allegation of abuse.”

Mr. Farrar recently completed a master’s degree in applied criminology and police management at the University of Cambridge. (It required only six weeks a year of residency in England.) And he wrote about the video-camera experiment in his thesis.

He says his goal is to equip all uniformed officers in his department with the video cameras. “Video is very transparent,” he said. “It’s the whole enchilada.”

Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail:


Wes Barr’s Directed Patrol plan could increase crime in rural Sangamon County

bnr-1On October 15th, 2014 Wes Barr explained his plan for ‘directed patrols’ in the unincorporated areas of Sangamon County:

“Directed Patrols- basically we have deputies assigned to East and West County- they’re very large areas. They go all the way from Divernon to Williamsville, and, if it’s east, out up to Illiopolis and that whole surrounding area. If it’s West County, it’s out to Pleasant Plains and all that surrounding area. So they’re very large. So the proposal is that we’ll have the shift lieutenant and, as a department, break them down into smaller areas: zones, per se. And, so when a deputy’s assigned to let’s say, West County, they can say, “We want you to be in West County, but for the first four hours (or the last four hours, wherever it may be, or whatever times the shift supervisors thinks appropriate), we want you in Zone 1. So, it just holds more accountability, so that we know we had a deputy in this particular area during this particular time. And, I think that helps when the second shift supervisors come in and they see what areas the day shift people have worked, then they can assign them to the other part of the county.”

(Source: Interview with State Journal-Register Editorial Board, 10/15/14 – 01:30)

In an October 2013 press release, Barr provided his understanding of Directed Patrols:

“Directed Patrols are a practice used by other police agencies to ensure maximum coverage and accountability for taxpayers, and Sangamon County taxpayers deserve that same accountability from the Sheriff’s Office.”

However, Barr’s understanding of Directed Patrols is at odds with the definition found in Barron’s Police Sergeant Examination:

‘The purpose of Directed Patrol is to deal with specific police problems at specific locations. Directed Patrol is performed when a police officer is directed to deal with a certain police problem or to prevent certain criminal conduct at a certain location and during a certain time period.’

Barr’s understanding of Directed Patrol also conflicts with that of National Criminal Justice Reference Services (

Directed Patrols. Since the advent of computerized crime analysis, however, a far greater precision in the identification of crime patterns has become possible. Police have used that precision to focus patrol resources on the times and places with the highest risks of serious crime. The hypothesis is that the more patrol presence is concentrated at the “hot spots” and “hot times” of criminal activity, the less crime there will be in those places and times.

Directed Patrol, therefore means directing police officers to previously identified crime ‘hot spots’. It does not mean assigning the sheriff’s deputies to different rural zones each shift, “to ensure maximum coverage and accountability for taxpayers.”

The problem with Barr’s understanding of Directed Patrol is that it may in fact lead to an increase in crime: if shift supervisors at the Sheriff’s Office know that a deputy was covering a particular rural area during a particular time, then it wouldn’t be long before burglars, thieves, and drug dealers also caught on to this information.

Jeff Regan better prepared to usher change at Sangamon Co. Sheriff’s Office (SJR, 10/27/14)

By The Editorial Board
The State Journal-Register

il-springfield_logoPolice work isn’t what it used to be.

Public scrutiny of law enforcement is more intense than ever, especially after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer shot and killed a black unarmed teenager, prompting local and national outrage.

Besides the shooting itself, observers were shocked to watch police there respond to peaceful protests and violent rioting with aggressive, military-style tactics, including military vehicles, tear gas and assault rifles, much of which had been previously funneled to departments through the federal government unbeknownst to taxpayers.

Since then, there has been much discussion, nationally and locally, about police powers, the use of force and technology, and race relations between law enforcement and the public. Law enforcement appears to be on the cusp of an evolution.

That includes the Sangamon County Sheriff’s Office, where Sheriff Neil Williamson is retiring after 20 years at the helm. Two candidates are vying to replace him: Republican Wes Barr and Democrat Jeff Regan.

Both are experienced, retired officers — Barr from the sheriff’s office, Regan from the Illinois State Police.

Both men have proposed ideas for improving some functions of the agency and oversight of the jail. They’re both concerned with being responsive to the needs of the public, and both see merits to using cameras to improve police-community interaction. The agency’s budget remains tight, so there’s little money available to expand programs and services, but attention to customer service is always good in government.

Where they differ is vision.

Regan appears to be better prepared to lead a sheriff’s office of the future — one that will require a more diverse workforce, expanded training, higher standards for professionalism and the ability to resolve routine conflicts without the aid of military surplus.

Barr seems content with the status quo, which simply isn’t good enough for a sheriff’s office of 2014, especially coming off a series of lawsuits and allegations related to mistreatment of jail inmates and questionable use of force by deputies on the street.

For example, Barr is content with keeping the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, that the sheriff’s office acquired. Regan said he would return it. We agree with Regan on this point. There is no reason for a central Illinois sheriff’s office to have such a piece of equipment. It was used once — in a Riverton mobile home park where a man had barricaded himself in a home and eventually surrendered.

It’s not the first time local police dealt with such a situation and saw it to a peaceful end; why an MRAP suddenly is required to do so is a mystery. Rarely, if ever, would such a tool be needed locally, and it presents a startlingly negative image. Retaining it shows a certain tone-deafness about the current mood of the public.

Barr also showed a surprising lack of insight into the diversity of the sheriff’s office and the racial makeup of jail inmates. With ongoing criticism of diversity on local police forces and with Illinois embarking on a renewed conversation about disparities in sentencing for drug violations, we would expect candidates for sheriff to demonstrate a deeper understanding of why those matters are of particular importance.

And whereas Regan is calling for better health-care training for jail staff to enable them to recognize physical and mental problems in inmates, Barr seemed hesitant, noting instead the cost and time commitment required for such training.

Barr is correct, of course, that such training is expensive. But so is the barrage of legal bills the county has faced in recent years stemming from serious lapses in health care in the jail. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

One thing Barr has going for him is that the community trusts him and feels they know him. He is an avid volunteer and a friendly guy. There is value in the ability to hone that kind of relationship with the public. Whether that translates into trust in the agency is another matter.

Of the two candidates, Regan brings more progressive, thoughtful and enlightened ideas for an agency that is ripe for change. He is endorsed.