NEW ORLEANS - A game changer, that's how New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas described so called body cameras. At a joint news conference Friday, new police patrol vehicles, motorcycles, and other gadgets were on full display.
The New Orleans Fire Department showed a new fire response boat and virtually all branches of public safety had some new kind of equipment to showcase. But most of the media attention fell on the compact cameras which all NOPD officers who will be responding to service calls will soon be required to wear.
"It allows us with unwavering ability to reconstruct events to know exactly what happened," said Superintendent Serpas.
The NOPD has contracted with a company for 420 cameras. That number of cameras will enable the number of officers on street duty at any given time to have one of the cameras on them. During a demonstration, the superintendent and a lieutenant ran through the basic operations of the camera. By tapping a small black block mounted on the officer’s chest, a camera that can be connected to a helmet or goggles is activated and starts recording video and audio.
The cameras will basically record everything the officer says, sees and hears. For a police department that’s been the subject of federal corruption cases, this technology is seen as a safeguard against misconduct by police or by the people they're supposed to protect.
"There's no more he said - she said, it'll be right there for everybody to see, and it actually, in fact changes the behavior of the police officer and the individuals in the public," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
"And in those events when you do have to have an exchange between an officer and a citizen which results in the use of force, it's all going to be videotaped, we can learn from it, we can use it," said Chief Serpas.
Of course the effectiveness of the cameras is predicated on the honesty of the officer. He or she must activate the camera to record whatever unfolds. Chief Serpas said there are ways to make sure his officers will comply with the new requirement.
"If an officer is out on a call and there's not a corresponding video then we'll know to look for that, if an officer also has a video in the vehicle when that turns on automatically with blue lights, if we don't see the two coming in, then we know there's an issue. Thirdly, the officers are going to demonstrate here like they have in the rest of the world, this is something they want to put on because it gives absolute, unequivocal evidence of what they did, when they did it and how they did it," said Chief Serpas.
The NOPD is spending roughly $300,000 a year on the body cameras. They are small, but their impact is expected to be wide ranging.