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Burlington cops test body cameras - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington cops test body cameras

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

The snap of a magnetic mount is the sound of the future in law enforcement. Senior Officer Christopher Sweeney is one of seven officers on the Burlington Police Department force who volunteered to wear body cameras.

"With cellphones now and everything else, if you're out in the public chances are someone is looking or watching or recording anyway. This is the same thing, but I'm the one turning it on and off. So, it doesn't really bother me," Sweeney said.

Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling says the design is one of the challenges. They've been testing body cameras for a couple of years, and the technology has gotten better.

"We're hoping that the low-light capabilities are going to increase over the next couple of months as they release new devices. So, nighttime is good, but not great. And since two-thirds of our work is at night, that's not quite perfect yet," Schirling said.

The cost is also coming down. Two years ago one body camera was more than $1,000. Today, it's between $300 and $400. Schirling says right now it would cost about $150,000 for the initial investment. That includes maintaining the equipment and the video and storing it.

"We're waiting for that correct intersection point of the right technology, the right price and the right capability to roll together and we're hoping that's coming soon," Schirling said.

When Corporal Ethan Thibault shot and killed Wayne Brunette after responding to a call last month, people wondered if there was video from a camera in the cruiser. It turns out Burlington had cameras in patrol cars back in the VHS days. Today, the chief says it would cost $200,000 just to put cameras in 24 marked cars.

"In our operating environment where traffic stops are just a small cross-section of what we do, about 5,400 stops a year set against 40,000 calls for service, it's such a relatively small cross-section of what we do. The body-worn cameras seem to make much more sense as an investment," Schirling said.

The cameras are docked on a unit in the police station and the video can't be edited or erased.

As he heads out on patrol, Officer Sweeney says being armed with a camera has helped him on the job. He says when he first gets to a scene, witnesses are more apt to be honest and helpful in those initial moments and he can get that on camera. Also, he can be rolling when he gets someone's consent to search, and then there's no question of coercion.

As for the legal ramifications, the chief says here in Vermont, you are not allowed to record audio or video inside someone's home without their permission. So, for now, the officers turn the cameras on and off using their best judgment.

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