NOPD Presents Nationally Recognized Body-Worn Camera Program To State Task Force
NEW ORLEANS – NOPD representatives traveled to the State Capitol in Baton Rouge yesterday, Thursday, September 22, 2016, to present the department’s policy concerning use of body-worn cameras to a task force charged with improving the practice in Louisiana.
In speaking before the Louisiana Law Enforcement Body Camera Implementation Task Force, Deputy Chief John Thomas and Sgt. Robert Blanchard outlined the NOPD’s use of body-worn cameras and how the department handles public release of video captured by these devices.
“The NOPD was among one of the first departments nationwide to invest into a widespread deployment of body-worn cameras,” Thomas told the task force. “This gave us the ability to actually see what happens and avoid the ‘he said, she said’ issue. It also increases accountability, enhances the public trust, increases officer safety and improves the quality of our investigations.”
Members of the task force also asked questions concerning the release of video footage captured by body-worn cameras. Thomas responded by highlighting the department’s policy regarding release of video footage in critical incidents.
“Our superintendent is very transparent in releasing these videos,” Thomas said. “Our policy allows for us to obtain input from a variety of partners, including the District Attorney’s office, the City Attorney’s office and U.S. Attorney’s office in regards to releasing video in these critical incidents. Within nine days, we make a decision whether or not video in a critical incident will be released. A recommendation is made to our superintendent, who has the final decision as to if the footage will be released, but there are checks and balances in regards to a Federal judge also having a say in the matter.”
Thomas also discussed how the NOPD can redact portions of video to protect witnesses and victims as well as how the family of the victim is allowed to view the video before it is released to the public, a policy aspect that State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle (D-Baton Rouge) applauded.
“This is awesome,” she said. “That’s what the public is looking for – transparency and the safety of the officer and all involved. I think it’s a win-win for everyone. I look forward to hearing more information from NOPD as we change the policies in the state to best fit use of these cameras.”
Orleans Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier, who also sits on the committee, said that the NOPD’s policy has allowed for the court, as well as prosecutors and defense attorneys, to receive copies of body-worn camera videos promptly for review.
“I’ve noticed a drastic difference in allowing me to view these videos and determine whether or not there is probable cause in what a police stop was really about,” she said. “I can get that word for word. Our memories fade over time, but if we’re having a hearing a year or so later, it helps having that on video.”
Blanchard told the task force that he sees between 15-20 requests per week to review body-worn camera footage, most of which are in reference to traffic accidents.
Task Force Chair Franz Borghardt, a Baton Rouge-based attorney, called the NOPD’s body-worn camera program a “beacon of what we need to be looking at in terms of good policies and good procedures.”
The Louisiana Law Enforcement Body Camera Implementation Task Force’s mission is to study and make recommendations regarding the requirements for implementation and development of best procedures for the use of the body cameras and policies for access to and use of body camera recordings by law enforcement agencies in Louisiana, organization reps said. The group is comprised of members in fields ranging from legal practice to law enforcement officers to municipal government officials.
NOPD launched one of the nation’s largest body worn camera programs in the country in 2014 and now has more than 800 cameras for a force of fewer than 1,200 officers, NOPD reps said. Program statistics indicate that officers are consistently using the cameras in 99 percent of all incidents and these videos are being used to assist with criminal investigations as well as internal investigations, they said.
View a video of NOPD reps explaining body-worn camera program to the task force here.