By Jim Hagerty
BELOIT, Wis. — The Beloit Police Department on Monday rolled out the body cams officials have been working towards since last year.
The cameras will be carried on shoulder mounts, clipped to eyewear and mounted on an officer’s head. The shoulder mount is expected to be the most utilized because it allows for a view that is best comparable to an officer’s at a scene, officials say.
Fifty-nine officers and command staff will wear the cameras, which can be turned on manually before traffic stops, searches, frisks and interviews. Officers will also have the option to activate a camera in a situation the officer decides is worthy of recording, such as a call that escalates into an emergency or when someone becomes unruly.
Cameras will otherwise activate when an officer turns on squad car lights, deploys a taser or activates a car’s rifle trigger. Body camera systems collect a certain amount of footage prior to an activation event, meaning that footage captured will precede the time at which an officer or trigger event turns them on.
The School District of Beloit earlier this month authorized the department’s school resource officers to use cameras on school property. Their cameras will be activated when an officer gets called by a school official or security guard. Faces of juveniles captured during those instances will be blurred out for their protection, Police Chief David Zibolski said.
“We have a software package and personnel trained to accommodate (the blurring feature),” Zibolski told the school board Jan. 9.
Zibolski said while some of Beloit’s minority communities raised some concern about the use of body cameras, the department decided to use them because of that concern.
“To use (body cams) for more accountability and transparency is a win-win,” the chief said.
Officials say it is common for there to be approximately three hours of body cam footage every eight-hour shift. Footage is usually kept for 120 days at most departments, but Beloit Police officials say they’ll keep their footage for 180 days.
The department hoped to roll out the cameras sooner but waited until after the Wisconsin Assembly approved a bill that names local agencies custodians of footage, giving them the ability to oversee the data. Footage captured on school property will be maintained by the police department instead of included as student records kept by the district unless an inter-agency agreement is in place that calls for it.
Officers were trained on camera usage this summer. They come more than a year after the Beloit Police Department upgraded audio and video equipment used to record interviews that take place in their interrogation room. R.