Crime & Courts

Questions and answers on police body cameras

Q What will happen if I call the police or get pulled over?

A Police will activate the cameras during most interactions with the public. Experts say officers are more likely to be respectful and professional because anything captured on video could become a part of their personnel file or a criminal investigation.

Q What do the cameras look like?

A Most of the cameras are black and have a battery pack and storage device about the size of a deck of cards. Some also have a flexible lens that can be attached to another part of an officer’s body. For their camera pilot, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police used Taser’s Axon Flex camera. Davidson Police use cameras made by L3 Mobile-Vision.

Q Will the officer tell me I’m being recorded?

A Not necessarily. Telling people that they’re being recorded isn’t written into most policies, but many officers tell people they’re being recorded because it makes people less combative and more cooperative.

Q Can I get access to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department video if it’s about me?

A It’s not clear. CMPD’s draft policy prevents the public from seeing the video, citing N.C. laws protecting personnel files and data that’s part of a criminal investigation. Police say their policy is in flux and may change to allow people who are recorded to see video about them like videos captured by dashboard cameras in patrol cruisers. Some defense attorneys have been able to get body camera footage in limited cases. And open government advocates say the videos should be public.

Q How will they choose the 200 officers who will wear the cameras first?

A Police haven’t said which officers will get the cameras or shared their criteria for the initial deployment. The cameras will be rolled out by division.

Q What are the rules in other cities where they’ve used cameras?

A Typically, officers activate the cameras when they’re about to engage with the public, anything from traffic stops to responding to reports of a suspicious person. Most states shield who can see the video. Some allow the officer to review the video but not edit it. Some municipalities allow people who’ve been recorded to see the video.

Q What happens to the video shot by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police?

A If the video is part of a criminal case or becomes part of a personnel file, it’s kept by the department until the matter is closed. Routine video is usually kept for a matter of weeks or months, then expunged under the provisions of state records law. Most camera makers offer an Internet-base service for storing videos, but larger departments, like CMPD, may find it cost-effective to have their own storage. Cleve R. Wootson Jr.