Morrisville police now required to use body-worn cameras

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Morrisville police are now in their first full week of wearing body cameras. They started to wear the devices on Thursday.

During a virtual forum, police chief Patrice Andrews said the move is about safety and accountability.

Andrews also said there will be costs associated with the cameras. The cameras will need replacing every three to four years, she said. There are also licensing and warranty fees associated with their operation, as well.

Fiscal year 2020 budget documents show the Morrisville town council budgeted $75,000 to buy 38 body cameras. Another $24,800 was allocated for warranty renewals and cameras in patrol units.

Out of the town’s $35.8 million budget, $4.6 million was allocated to police services. The budget for fiscal year 2021 is not yet finalized.

Andrews explained police officers are now required to turn on body cameras when they arrive at a scene, interact with the public or if they are transporting anyone. The new cameras sync up with cameras inside police vehicles using a Bluetooth connection.

“Frankly, there are very little times when a body-worn camera can be deactivated. I think our policy is very clear,” said Andrews.

There are privacy issues regarding the cameras. When it comes to sexual assault or domestic violence survivors, Andrews said officers will inform the person the camera is on then ask if the person consents to being recorded. She said officers are required to comply with the person’s preference.

If the officer is discussing private information protected through HIPPA or inside a health care facility, cameras must be turned off for that as well.

The personal information of officers is also protected, according to the chief.

Andrews said personal phone calls, moments where there is an expectation of privacy – like using a restroom – or any moments when police are not actively engaged on call, there is no requirement to turn on the camera. Andrews said there is limited storage which will not allow cameras to be on for an entire shift.

“We need to make sure the body-worn camera is used appropriately and that’s for our public, our community, and our officers as well,” Andrews said.

Andrews said officers have undergone training for the devices. She said they need to become second nature for officers in their daily interactions. If officers do forget to turn them on, the camera can backtrack and record the previous 30 seconds.

The chief said the cameras are in place to enhance officer safety, transparency, document interactions and provide training. She said the community should play a role in improving community relations.

“We talk about accountability, holding our department accountable. Asking to see our policies, I think those are important because when you ask to receive them and read them, you might have questions,” said Andrews.

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