Pigeon Forge police getting new body cameras to wear on shirts/lapels

Feb. 18, 2013 @ 04:17 PM

Police officers here soon will have a new tool: body cameras.

The City Commission has approved the purchase of eight body cameras for the police department. They cost $909.95 each, for a total of $7,279.60.

"We have video cameras in cars, but not on motorcyles," Police Chief Jack Baldwin told the commission at its meeting last week. "These would be to outfit motorcycle officers with video cameras."

Sold by L-3 Mobile-Vision, the cameras attach to a shirt or lapel.

The police department has 11 motorcycles. Mounted video cameras are available for motorbikes, but Baldwin prefers body cameras because they are not tied to vehicles.

"When you make a stop or answer a call and get away from the unit, whether car or motorcycle, you're away from the camera, you're away from the recorder, and you lose all audio and video," Baldwin said in an interview. "Where, if you're wearing the camera, you've got your audio and video no matter where you are."

Video is vital to police work, "especially DUI cases," Baldwin said. "When you go to the courtroom and are trying DUIs, you always see video of the driver, and of the vehicle that [police] are following when they stop it."

Pigeon Forge police cars have been equipped with video cameras for years, Baldwin said. "When we first got them, we were running VHS tapes in them. Now, of course, they're recording onto storage in the vehicles. When they come into the station, video downloads automatically to a server in the building."

Police video has its limits, Baldwin noted. "Anytime you're utilizing a camera, even if you're taking a still picture, it doesn't see everything the eye sees," he said. "Nor will it pick up the excitement of the moment."

Still, said Baldwin, video cameras are "extremely useful. In most courtrooms, it's a common occurence for police video to be brought in. Judges are used to seeing it."

The Sevierville police department owns several body cameras, city spokesman Bob Stahlke said. "We do not use them on a regular basis. We have them at our disposal if we feel we need them."

Unlike in Pigeon Forge, the Sevierville police department has no motorcycle officers. "The majority of our cars have front and rear cameras," Stahlke said. "Driving a police car is the highest-liability thing we do, and we want to have a record of that."

The best solution, Stahlke said, "would be for officers to have both lapel cameras and in-car video. But then you get into the cost of doing that. It would be expensive."

kburns@themountainpress.com