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Fountain police look to switch body-worn camera system to one that's easier for officers

By: Chhun Sun
April 13, 2016 Updated: April 13, 2016 at 10:12 pm
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Fountain Police officer wears a body camera Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

The Fountain Police Department is considering changing its body-worn camera system after recently discovering a complication.

While auditing footage from officers' cameras, "We realized that footage wasn't always titled," Lt. Tommy Coates said.

Officers are required to identify their videos with a time, place and description of an incident, a process that's not completed until a day or two after a shift ends. The extra work doesn't always fit in their schedule.

Now, the department is looking to make life easier for the officers. Fountain police made the decision to "piggyback" on the Colorado Springs Department's efforts to bring in a body-worn camera program this year, Coates said. The latter department is looking at equipment from utility.com, which boasts a product that allows officers to input data on scene, he added.

According to Colorado Springs police Cmdr. Pat Rigdon, about 50 officers will start wearing cameras by early May. Six months later, he said all nearly 500 officers should be equipped.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is also expected to follow in the police department's footsteps.

Until then, Fountain police are now reviewing some 15,000 videos. Of those, about 1,400 could possibly be tied to a criminal complaint.

"But the good part is that there's still the case report, the investigation, the followup the officer conducted that's on file," Coates said.

In an effort to be transparent, the Fountain Police Department called a press conference Wednesday and talked about the growing pains and frustrations during the first year of its body-worn camera program. Some other issues included losing about 15,000 videos after the first six months because they had surpassed the 180-day retention period. To prevent this from happening again, the department has made the retention period indefinite.

This change came, in part, to help the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office with cases.

"We thought the 180-day initial retention period would be sufficient timeframe for anybody to make a complaint or request a video or for criminal case to be initiated and have that video requested," said Mike Haley, a Fountain police administrator. "Obviously, the wheels of justice don't turn in 180 days. Some cases take longer than 180 days to make it to a point where discovery is necessary."

The department started experimenting with body cameras as early as 2008. In November 2014, it bought the equipment through Digital Ally. And four months later, the department implemented the equipment - a camera the size of a pager that sticks on the front of an officer's uniform in the middle of the chest.

Since then, all 53 officers in the department have learned that maintaining a body-worn cameras program can be time-consuming.

Coates said the department is planning to stick with the Digital Ally system until it can join Colorado Springs police and El Paso County Sheriff's Office and begin using the utility.com product.

The new system will cost Fountain police $50,000 a year, he added.

"I think it's going to streamline everything and make it much simpler and much easier for the officers in terms of time, in terms of time management, in terms of case management," Coates said. "It's going to be a win-win all the way across and it's better for us, we think, to step away and go with the newer, high-tech, more well-developed, bugs-worked-out system that's coming on board."

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