Police protection: Lawrence Police Dept. implementing body cameras for officer protection, transparency


By Sam Elliott

In an effort to promote both officer and public safety and encourage transparency, the Lawrence Police Dept. has begun implementing a new body camera system to be worn by its officers.

The department is partnering with Utility, a Decatur, Ga., company and maker of the BodyWorn camera system, which includes front- and rear-facing cameras inside police cars as well as a chest-mounted camera worn by officers.

Two LPD operations employees, first-year officer Devin Randall and fourth-year officer Cory Whaley, are the first two Lawrence policemen to use the new technology. LPD Chief David Hofmann estimates all 44 of his operations officers will be outfitted with the Utility BodyWorn system by late September or early October.

“We opted to just start with two officers because we want to find out exactly what this product is capable of and we’re going to listen to them and take their feedback,” Hofmann said. “We’re going to stick with two officers in this trial deployment and we’re going to see how this goes. We’re kind of wading into this rather than jumping in with both feet just because we want to see what the unknowns are.”

In his previous job as the Southwest District Commander with IMPD, Hofmann participated in the testing and evaluating of different body camera systems, leading him to Utility’s BodyWorn product.

“We think this will be an amazing product for keeping our officers safer on the streets and hopefully insulate them from false complaints and lawsuits, as well,” Hofmann said. “I think most people in our community do trust the police, but for those that don’t this is a product that’s going to guarantee absolute transparency and accountability.

“We’re bringing this technology in at a time where we’re not responding to a critical or controversial hot shooting or in-custody death,” he added. “We’re trying to be proactive, innovative and progressive in using our technology smarter.”

Officer Randall, who began using his BodyWorn camera on the job last month, said he doesn’t anticipate the technology affecting how he works.

“I feel like if you’re treating people correctly, you don’t have to change any part of your job,” Randall said. “I anticipate it helping with just little ‘knick-knack’ complaints from people. I feel like the administration will be able to review the video and nip that in the bud right away.”

Randall and Utility’s Mark Wood, a former IMPD officer of 21 years, said the body cameras can act as an effective deterrent of behaviors by suspects that could escalate a situation or lead to injuries to both officers and residents.

“On this job there are just some people you can’t reach. They’re going to act the way they want when they want, but I think in most cases where people are breaking the law and you let them know that they’re being recorded, it just takes all the fire and fight out of them,” Randall said. “They don’t really want to act in an erratic way to try to escalate a situation to get us to do something we wouldn’t normally do.”

The officers also suspect they’ll be able to file more accurate incident reports thanks to being able to review video. They also expect to spend less time in court.

“Anytime you’re able to take a video or a picture in to show a jury or a judge or use as evidence, it adds credibility to your statement,” Whaley said. “It eliminates that he-said, she-said aspect. The video is there, and what it records is what happened,  and anybody can look back at that and say, ‘That’s what happened.’”

LPD’s five-year contract with Utility provides the department with unlimited secure cloud storage for video as well as 24-hour support and repair work should equipment need replacing throughout the contract, which costs the department approximately $60,000 per year. The cameras can record more than five hours of video on a single charge, although Wood said an average officer’s shift results in approximately one hour and 30 minutes of footage.

How it Works

“The best thing about this is I don’t even have to turn it on,” LPD Officer Devin Randall said of his Utility BodyWorn camera.

LPD’s in-car cameras from Utility will automatically begin recording anytime officers turns on their overhead red and blue lights. Their on-person camera automatically begins recording in the following instances:

• When an officer opens and exits their door after having turned on their car’s overhead lights.

• When an officer releases their car’s shotgun rack or rifle rack locks.

• When the camera’s accelerometer senses an officer is on a foot pursuit or in a physical struggle.

Officers can also manually begin recording by pressing a button on a wrist-watch-type device, or by voice activation by simply saying, “Camera on.”

The cameras can also sense when an officer is laying in a prone position if they’re injured and will send out an officer-down alert plus GPS coordinates to the rest of the LPD.