ELPD Gets Body Cams, Anticipates Potential Game-Related Trouble

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Friday, December 4, 2015, 7:22 pm
Alice Dreger

Above: ELPD Officer Scott Klavenski wearing one of the new body cameras in a photo courtesy of ELPD.

The East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) announced today that many of its patrol officers will now be wearing body cameras. In an announcement from the City, ELPD Chief Jeff Murphy said the cameras will “add another level of transparency and protection for the public and our officers.” He added, “We also felt it was important to have these cameras implemented and in the field this weekend for any issues that may arise in conjunction with the Big Ten Championship football game” between MSU and Iowa.

I spoke this afternoon with ELPD’s Lieutenant Scott Wriggelsworth to find out more about the new body cameras. Wriggelsworth told me that he thinks most officers are comfortable with them. He said that when dashboard cameras first came into use, some officers were “apprehensive” about them. “But officers understand if you’re out there doing it right,” he said, the cameras are “going to show that. If you’re straying a little bit, it’s going to get you back in line, because these cameras are here to stay.”

He said that ELPD’s leadership is confident that “these are going to show that the vast majority of the time, we are doing things the right way. People are fallible, but I think most of the time, we are doing [policing] the right way.”

The department will be checking to make sure officers are using the cameras. Wriggelsworth says that patrol sergeants will be “required on a routine basis to pull up calls and see there is body camera footage associated with the call. So there will be audits, if you will, to make sure they are being used appropriately.” Officers will not be able to erase footage recorded.

ELPD's dashboard cameras automatically turn on when an officer turns on the emergency lights in her or his vehicle, but the body cameras need to be manually turned on. Wriggelsworth says it may take an introductory period for officers to get used to the routine of turning the cameras on when dealing with a traffic stop or call to investigate (the cameras are only to be activated during active field police work), but he expects the bigger problem will be officers forgetting to turn them off in the first few months. This, he said, may lead to a few weeks of a lot of footage of steering wheels in patrol vehicles. The cameras will make noises to remind officers they are still turned on.

The ELPD currently has only eight body cameras, so Wriggelsworth says, “There are going to be times when we have more people out in the field working than we have body cameras.” He explained that, “Once officers have been through the training, sergeants on the shift will hand them out at briefings. Once you’ve been trained and handed a camera, you are expected to follow the policies and procedures of the police department.” That includes turning on the cameras for all traffic stops, suspicious activity calls, and so on.

Some ELPD officers will be wearing the cameras when out on calls for game-related disturbances this weekend. Wriggelsworth says ELPD is encouraging people to celebrate responsibility, but is also realistic about the potential for problems. He says given that this is a big game, that the weather is going to be relatively warm, and that final exams are not yet upon the student population, we are facing a recipe for some problems.

He adds, “We will be ready to act if need be.” MSU Police will have officers working overtime. The Ingham County Sheriff’s mounted unit will be in town to help (read more about that group), and the Michigan State Police will also be providing assistance.


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