‘This is a tool for us’: ISP unveils new body camera program aimed at improving transparency

Regional News

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana State Police announced the launch of a new body camera program Thursday.

In August of last year, Gov. Eric Holcomb required body cameras amid last summer’s calls for social justice as a way to help tackle systemic racism within the structures of state government. Holcomb said he wanted the department to have them by spring of 2021.

ISP Superintendent Doug Carter discussed the new $15 million system during a Thursday morning news conference.

“This has been a project in the making for quite some time now,” Carter said. “Policing in America changed over the last 16 months.”

Carter was referring to a tighter focus on police conduct and social justice in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. He called the body camera program “one component” of changes in policing and said there would be around 800 cameras statewide once the program is completely implemented. About 230 cameras have been distributed so far.

The cameras work in tandem with in-car cameras, ISP said. The system utilizes a router installed in the vehicle that allows for more accessibility and connectivity in areas of the state where cell phone coverage isn’t always reliable.

One of the biggest logistical challenges, according to Carter, was accounting for rural parts of the state. Troopers often spend their days away from the reliable internet service found in urban areas.

“The rural part of the state has always been a problem with internet connectivity,” Carter said. “The technology that we currently have really does explode that connectivity for the vast majority of state troopers.”

The system utilizes a pair of SIM cards—one each for AT&T and Verizon—to help maintain connectivity depending on which carrier works best in certain areas.

The cameras will provide a new layer of transparency for ISP, serving as both a training tool and a way to help the department handle complaints. Carter envisioned watching playback of footage so troopers can see where they succeeded and where they could have done a better job.

The cameras, which can switch on and off automatically, will be used while troopers are on duty. Troopers are expected to use the cameras in the following situations:

Dash camera

  • When responding to a call for service
  • When engaging in a law enforcement activity
  • When engaging with the public in a non-enforcement activity such as a stranded motorist.

Body camera

  • Upon exiting their commission at the scene of a call for service
  • When engaging in law enforcement activity
  • When engaging with the public in a non-enforcement activity such as a stranded motorist.

Rear facing interior camera

  • While transporting a prisoner
  • While on-duty and transporting a member of the public
  • Conducting an interview in their commission; or
  • While allowing a member of the public to sit in commission unattended.

ISP policy prohibits officers from muting their microphones or stopping a recording to prevent audio from being captured. They can only deactivate cameras once they reach “the conclusion of an event.”

Carter consulted with different cities and towns to learn their approach to body cameras. But he acknowledges that body cameras, while intended to improve transparency, are not perfect.

“This technology is not the be all, end all. We’ve seen around the country with many, many other agencies and other situations that sometimes what you see isn’t what actually occurred,” Carter said.

“This is a tool for us,” he said of the body cameras. “This is a tool for our citizens, for [the media], a tool for our prosecutors.”

Carter said the decision on the release of footage will be up to him based on Indiana law. While he promised to be as open as possible, there will be times in which footage may need to be restricted.

He vowed that he wouldn’t withhold video just because it may make ISP look bad.

Carter conceded that he had skepticism about the need and utility of body cameras at first. But his views changed after a pair of notable interactions.

“One of them was a conversation that I had at one of our rural posts with a young trooper that said, ‘Your view is an old one.’ It was compelling to me. He was right. He was absolutely right,” Carter said.

The second interaction was with his daughter–also a police officer–who knew her father’s reluctance toward body cameras. She explained how a body camera had helped her.

“I realized that my view was that of, I’ll just call it a ‘senior person,’ as opposed to someone on the front line,” Carter said. “I realized that if they’re concerned to do their job, then we have to look at this differently. I have to look at this differently.”

Carter said he eventually saw the benefits of the cameras, especially when it comes to training and policies.

ISP expects to issue all cameras by the end of August.

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