BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - From now on, when residents interact with Baton Rouge Police officers, they'll be on camera.
"We hope that this will lead to some transparency at the department so that the public, when they have any questions, we can go the video camera and there won't be any questions about what may or may not have taken place," said Interim Chief Jonny Dunnam.
Thursday afternoon, several officers at BRPD's 5th district were among the first to strap on the new Axon body cameras. "It's going to be a necessity for every office to have for their safety, for the public's safety and well being," said Dunnam.
Buying body cameras has been an ongoing conversation for the last three years. After months of testing brands and over $2 million later, the dream is now a reality. BRPD has 650 officers on its staff. The city purchased 698 body cameras. Dunnam says he hopes equipping officers with body cameras will add to the department's transparency.
"We hope back in 2007 when we started with the in-car cameras in our vehicles, we noticed complaints with our officers decreased from the public and issues that we might have decreased. We hope that continues," he said.
Dunnam says they're one of the largest departments in the state to get body cameras that will be in standby mode, ready to go until the officer interacts with a citizen. "Officers are supposed to turn on those cameras every interaction that they have with the public," said Dunnam. He also says when officers are speaking with a supervisor concerning a personnel matter, the camera can be left off.
Mayor- president Sharon Weston Broome has been a vocal supporter of body cams. "I believe it brings us up to best standards and best practices. Timing was very important. We were in a season here in our city and parish, working to close the gap between law enforcement and the citizens in our community. Certainly I believe that the body cameras are a positive step in that direction," said Broome.
First Class Officer Solomon Ona tested the body cameras during the pilot program. He says adding body cams to their daily interactions is a positive move. "They feel confident that we're going to do our job like we've been doing, so shouldn't be too much different," he said.
BRPD will also purchase new dash cameras from Axon. We're told when the cameras are installed within the next two months, the body cameras will turn on automatically when triggered. We were also told by Friday evening, every officer will have a body camera, including plain clothes officers.
As for the public records request, body cameras can be subject to them, however Dunnam says if there isn't a criminal case associated with the body camera footage, the video will be kept for around 30 days.
We're also told the footage will be open to public records requests after court cases have been adjudicated, as well as any administrative hearings that officers may have. Once that's finalized, the body camera footage can be released.