Caught on camera: More police departments using body cameras

MESA, AZ - Whenever police are called to respond to a call, there's a chance it's caught on video.

More and more police departments now equip their officers with body cameras.

ABC15 got a close-up look at these cameras Wednesday. They look like a flashlight attached to their glasses. But instead, they're small but powerful cameras.

We found these cameras aren't just taping citizens -- they're capturing officers' actions too.

Mesa police now have 50 of these cameras, which are helping preserve critical evidence. They're also being used in the courtroom.

Officer Steve York has been using a body camera on calls since they started the pilot program a year and a half ago.

"With this, you know getting a complaint, that officer would be like, 'okay hey -- no, I didn't do anything wrong. It's on video, here you go, you can check it out and look at it,'" he said.

A recent study from found when police officers used these cameras for a year, the number of "use of force" incidents dropped by 50 percent and complaints against police dropped dramatically, too.

"It does bring one, the community and the police closer together, because now they know the department's being as transparent as we can," York said.

York says he notices a change in behavior with the cameras, and not just with the officers wearing them.

"Sometimes when suspects realize they're being recorded, then that too changes their attitude towards how they're treating you or the person that they're dealing with," he said.

The video is saved in a database for years depending on the case.

"It can't be manipulated, it can't be deleted, it's there forever," York said.

Officers can also check the video on their phones, which are connected to the cameras. Police can even use this camera on "live preview." That allows them to check up on the status of a suspect if they think he's hiding.

They can take the camera off their glasses and peak around a corner, without getting in harm's way. This also helps them review evidence or property crimes.

It's working so well for Mesa police, it looks like this technology may be here to stay.

Phoenix police are also testing about 50 body cameras right now and Scottsdale police are trying out 10.

All 50 patrol officers are using these cameras at the Surprise Police Department, and a few other agencies are considering using them too.

We're told the cameras cost about $1,000 each.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) supports the use of these cameras, but does say it comes down to accountability vs. privacy.

The group says two questions need to be addressed for their use that raise some concerns:

Can officers choose when to record the video, and edit the content?

Are good policies in place so the camera doesn't invade citizens' privacy?

Mesa police say they're creating a policy for exactly when video must be recorded. Since this is a new program, they say their policies are still evolving.

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