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Body-Mounted Cameras Have Been A Useful Tool For Lenexa Police Despite Complications

Matt Hodapp

In the wake of the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama earlier this month called for $75 million to provide 50,000 body-mounted cameras to police departments across the nation. 

Several Missouri police departments have recently started using the devices, and more will likely follow if the federal funds move forward.

In Lenexa, Kan., officers have been ahead of the trend, successfully using body-mounted cameras since 2009 with primarily positive results. 

Starting with only six recorders for bicycles and motorcycles (which had no place for a dash cam), the Lenexa Police Department found the devices to be a good investment, police major Dawn Layman told KCUR's Gina Kaufman on Central Standard. By 2013, the department had spent $900 a piece to outfit every officer with a body-mounted camera.

Layman has been working with body-mounted cameras for almost five years. She has seen how the video evidence captured by the devices can be useful in court, particularly in cases of domestic abuse. Victims of abuse sometimes change their testimony in order to protect a loved one or because they are afraid of retaliation from their abuser. Layman says the video evidence can be valuable in helping victims break the cycle of abuse.

"In this instance, it's documented and we can help that person get the help that they need," says Layman. 

However, Layman also cautions people to be skeptical when approaching evidence collected from body-mounted cameras. Because they are placed on the officer's body, the cameras only depict any situation from a singular point of view.

"It doesn't show where my eyes, as an officer, are or what I'm concentrating on," Layman says. "If I'm getting ready to arrest you, and I tell you to put your hands behind your back and I have my hand on your arm, the video camera will not pick up tension or that reflex of that person to pull back. That muscle experience, that tactile experience, you're not going to see that."

Video camera technology is able to produce a more detailed picture than an individual's perception, particularly in low lighting situations. Layman thinks this can lead to confusion and miscommunication. 

"If the officer is reacting on what they actually see, and does not have the benefit of what this camera is producing, somebody who's sitting back after the fact is going to question why the officer acted a certain way," says Layman.

Part of Obama's initiative is a Body Worn Camera Partnership Program that offers a 50 percent match to departments that purchase the new equipment.

The hope is that this initiative will increase transparency between the police and the public. 

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