Ferndale police officers will begin wearing body cameras, like the one seen in this WatchGuard Video publicity photo, in January, starting with a 90-day period when the department will test out the equipment.

Ferndale police officers will begin wearing body cameras, like the one seen in this WatchGuard Video publicity photo, in January, starting with a 90-day period when the department will test out the equipment.

Photo provided by WatchGuard Video

Ferndale police to wear body cameras beginning in January

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published October 17, 2017


FERNDALE — Add the Ferndale Police Department to the list of police agencies wearing body cameras, as the City Council approved a purchase for the equipment at a recent meeting.

The council approved the purchase of 30 body-worn cameras, 10 in-car video system upgrades, and a server with software to support and maintain the equipment for $120,846.20 during its Oct. 9 meeting.

The purchase came about as a result of the city and the department following the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was established by former President Barack Obama.

“It is the roadmap that we’re using for our community policing efforts,” Mayor Dave Coulter said. “Body cams have been recognized as an important tool in that recommendation in order to increase public trust and protect officers.”

Officers will begin wearing the body cameras in January, though not all will wear them at the start. Chief Timothy Collins said the plan is to have a 90-day period to test out the equipment and gather information, such as where they should be worn on the uniform and how much data the department will be storing.

“It’ll be an issue of working the bugs out of the system,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things that we can conceptualize, but until we put them in the field, we won’t know how it’s going to play out.”

When the topic of adding body cameras came up, Collins said he wasn’t worried or against the idea of body cameras, as he was happy with the addition, but he was concerned about how to disperse the camera footage to the public.

He elaborated that, with body cameras, officers will be entering people’s homes, businesses and capturing video of people uninvolved with incidents. And as the department already spends a significant amount of time answering Freedom of Information Act requests for videos, Collins was worried about how that would add to the workload.

“My issue was sometimes people requesting them are doing it for a bunch of different reasons, not always because they have any reason to do it, other than they want to check in on the police,” he said.

Collins said he was waiting to see the resolution of legislation in the Michigan Legislature, which put rules on the types of video from body cameras that can be released to the public. That piece was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in July.

“If you could imagine, if you exponentially increase the amount of video you have, and you have somebody that goes out and says, ‘Now I want officer so-and-so’s video from July to September,’ well, somebody’s got to go through that. … That’s not an easy task,” he said. “That’s not like copying a file. Somebody has to, in real time, do that stuff. So, until the Legislature, which they did, produced some type of control of who gets that data and how it’s protected, we weren’t really on board for that reason. The concept of video itself we’re 100 percent behind.”

Coulter said his hope is the body cameras give the public confidence that their interactions with the police will be appropriate and professional, and that there’s now evidence if they believe it’s not. 

“For our police, who are often accused of things they didn’t do, it’s also an added measure of evidence of their actions as well,” he said.

Coulter also wanted to assure the public that the purchase of redaction equipment, which can redact or blur parts of the video captured by body cameras, is not so the police can blur out the actions that occurred at an incident. 

“An officer can go places that a car camera can’t. So he or she is going to be in someone’s house or on their property or in their private space, and there’s going to be things that are private that we don’t want shown, that shouldn’t be on that video because the video is able to be FOIA’d,” he said.

Examples of items that would be blurred out in a video, Coulter said, would be the face of a child or the license plate of a car not involved in an incident.

“Those sort of things will be redacted or just blurred out, and we think that’s important to protect the privacy of innocent people,” he said.