Residents have doubts about Durham Police body-camera plan

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The Durham Police Department has released a draft policy for having its officers equipped with body cameras.

The Durham Police Department is upgrading technology. Soon, officers will be wearing body cams and Thursday, the Department released a new "draft" policy outlining what the rules will be.

"I don't know that I can write a policy that will satisfy everyone," said Durham Deputy Chief A.R. Marsh. "But I think we can write a good policy that will balance all the interests. So that's what we attempted to do."

The Department outlined the policy highlights as follows:

  • Officers will wear the body cameras for their entire work shift and during secondary employment/off-duty jobs.

  • Officers will be required to begin recording immediately upon being dispatched to a call for service.

  • Once placed in record mode, policy requires that cameras will remain on until the initial incident that required activation has stabilized or concluded and the primary officer has left the scene. (Parameters for deactivation of cameras and guidelines for prohibited use are outlined in the policy.)

  • Camera footage will be stored for at least 180 days unless it involves DWIs, misdemeanor or felony cases, accidents involving City of Durham vehicles or administrative investigations.

  • Video footage captured by the cameras are records of a criminal investigation, just like the current in-car camera footage. As such, they are not public records per North Carolina General Statute 132-1.4.

  • Officers will be required to complete training on both the cameras and the video-management software before wearing the cameras.

  • Cameras will not be shared between officers.

  • "What we're looking for is a policy that balances the needs of the organization as well as the wishes of the public," Marsh said.

    RELATED: Click here to read the draft

    But many in Durham remain skeptical. The video wouldn't be subject to open-records laws and wouldn't be accessible by the public.

    "It doesn't allow public access to the recordings," said Susanna Birdsong with the North Carolina ACLU. "That's our biggest concern with the policy as it's written right now. They can really be tools to build community relationships but that can only happen when communities feel like they're part of the process, and when they're receiving information that body cams are recording and capturing."

    Many Durham residents expressed similar concerns.

    Darryle Waller liked the idea at first, saying police use "excessive force and target black people for unnecessary reasons and then roughing them up for no apparent reason." But when he learned the public wouldn't be allowed to see the video, he recanted. "Well, that's not going to be helpful at all. That's just going to benefit them."

    Nikia Sowell agreed. "I believe we should have any access, any at all. I would want to see what they have. Not letting the public have it isn't fair. I'm against it if we're not going to be able to see it."

    RELATED: Durham police: Body cameras come with pros, cons and a cost

    Not everyone saw it so cut and dry. Delshawn Alston, who claimed he was illegally stopped a few days ago, said he would have liked the officer to have been wearing a body cam. "Whether we can see it or not, it'd just make me comfortable to know that they do have it. That's my biggest thing; they need it."

    Deputy Chief Marsh downplayed concerns about access to the video. He said the rules for dash-cam video are largely the same when it comes to what people can and can't see, and said there haven't been many complaints about that.

    "The practice of the footage not being a public record is well-established," Marsh said. "Any video, whether it's in-car camera or body-camera video is just another iteration of an officer's police report, which is not and has not been so the public is not operating under a more restrictive process. It's just what they've always been operating under, whether they knew it or not."

    In other cities, body cameras have helped build (or rebuild) trust between police and the people they serve, but Marsh says that's not the main goal in Durham.

    "If there's been any whittling away of public trust," he said, "a piece of equipment is not going to get it back. We're going to get it back one encounter at a time, officer to citizen, officer to citizen."

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