UTC police are now wearing body cameras.

Officers started the practice about a week ago, but the decision on whether to use the cameras only was made after the matter was studied for several months, says UTC Chief of Police Robert Ratchford. They are now used daily by the 19 sworn officers on the UTC force.

“Body cameras seem to be the wave of the future,” he says. “Now that they have become more accepted, the uses and utilizations are just unlimited.

“They can be utilized to help the officer document everything. They document the police officer’s actions, the suspect’s actions; they document the interaction with the police officer and the public. It documents the citizens, the victims, the witnesses and the suspects as well as the crime scenes.”

Deputy Chief Craig Hamilton, with the UTC Police Department, wears a body camera Friday, September 28, 2018.

The policy for using cameras is mirrored after the one used by the Chattanooga Police Department, Ratchford says. “It’s been tried, true, tested and everything else,” he says. “They cover when you can use it, under what circumstances. How to use it. How not to use it. Where you can and can’t use it.”

A little smaller than a pack of cigarettes, the camera, worn on the chest of the officer, is turned on as soon as a police officer receives a call, Ratchford says. A circular red light on the front of the camera indicates that it’s recording.  “The red light means the camera is on when we’re in contact with the public,” Ratchford says.

The cameras “come as close to having an unbiased third party as there is” says Robie Robinson, executive director of emergency services for UTC.

“Police officers are human beings,” he says. “People on the streets, students or otherwise, are human beings, and we all have emotions; we all have personalities. But that camera there works to keep an eye on things on both sides or all sides of an issue. It also reminds people to be civil on both sides because you have that unbiased third party taping.”

At about $25,000 for the first year, the cost covers training, the technical set-up for the cameras and the recording and control equipment, ongoing support and storage and maintenance of the video itself, Ratchford says.

The information recorded by the camera can be used in court if needed, by both prosecution and defense, he says, but the video is well-protected technically and doesn’t leave police control where it might turn up on the internet. “Policies very clearly delineate who has access to the video; it is not available to the public,” he says.

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