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Body cameras offer promise, challenge for police departments




Body cameras, like this one shown at a 2014 press conference in Washington, D.C., are small enough to be clipped to an officer's chest. Washington and Denver are among U.S. cities trying the cameras.
Body cameras, like this one shown at a 2014 press conference in Washington, D.C., are small enough to be clipped to an officer's chest. Washington and Denver are among U.S. cities trying the cameras.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

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Police departments around the country have been under mounting pressure to equip their officers with video cameras, after several high-profile officer-involved shootings.

But as the technology becomes widely adopted, it presents its own set of problems: lots and lots of video to go through, and unclear rules on how and when to make it public.

"I think police chiefs and citizens alike want to do everything they can to demonstrate that they are being accountable and they are being transparent," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. The group worked on a Justice department report on body cameras that found that, as of 2013, less than one-fourth of departments surveyed were using body cameras. But that number is sure to be on the rise, said Wexler.

San Diego is one of many cities around the country that uses body cameras. The city's program began in January 2014.

"Our department had had several cases of misconduct on our police department, so we made the decision that we were going to implement a body-worn camera program," said Shelley Zimmerman, chief of San Diego Police Department. The department uses about 600 cameras throughout the force, according the Zimmerman.

In a six-month period last year, complaints reduced more than 40 percent and the use of force allegations in those complaints were cut by nearly 60 percent, said Zimmerman.

The department expects another analysis in about two to three months.