By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
At some point in the near future, Carbondale police officers will be wearing “body-cams,” which will capture images and sound recordings of everything from traffic stops to street encounters with citizens, similar to the devices worn by big-city cops and made famous in news stories about controversial acts by police around the country.
But the local police say their move to outfit officers with the devices was not driven by national news stories or complaints about police behavior.
Instead, said Lt. Chris Wurtsmith, second in command of the Carbondale Police Department, the move was driven “probably by just the opportunity to give the guys another tool in terms of evidence collection. So long as the camera’s facing what’s happening, it really enhances what we can present as evidence.”
In addition, Wurtsmith said, having the cameras record interactions between police and the citizenry might improve the level of customer service, particularly “in terms of transparency.”
Examples of how that might work, he said, could include roadside maneuvers in DUI stops or incidents involving suspected criminal activity.
Wurtsmith was asked how body cameras might have played a role in a high-profile incident in 2004, in which former CPD Off. Jose Muñoz used a taser six times on local resident Stephen Horn, after Muñoz pulled Horn over for allegedly coasting through a stop sign.
The officer claimed Horn was acting aggressively and irrationally, while Horn said he had simply gotten out of his car to approach Muñoz, whom Horn knew.
“That would have told us a whole lot,” Wurtsmith replied, referring to the conduct of the two individuals involved.
He said the department has been thinking about body cameras, and testing different models, for about two years, and this year purchased seven cameras at a cost of $4,100, with annual video-storage in the cloud expected to cost $1,680 per year. The funding for purchase of the cameras was donated by an anonymous local citizen in early May.
Wurtsmith said the police department is writing up a set of “policies and procedures” to be followed by officers and management concerning the use of the cameras.
He said he was not sure when the cameras will be put into use by the officers.
Police Chief Gene Schilling said the policies and procedures will be included in the LexiPro manual of policies the department uses.
Already, Schilling said, the cameras have come in handy when a man stopped for suspicion of drunk driving disputed an officer’s version of what went on during the incident.
The department pulled out the recording of the event, and the man’s claims were withdrawn, Schilling said.
“It allowed it to not go through a trial, in that he agreed to take a plea bargain,” Schilling said of the suspect and the case, which he said happened “a couple of months ago.”