One year later: How Springfield body cameras may be in jeopardy

One year later: Springfield body cameras and how they may be in jeopardy

One year later, what do we see with the Springfield body cameras?

In a special report, we take a step into the Springfield Police department and see their journey with this hardware.

Body cameras are used for every distress call.

Officials say it can help both you and police, and it's true, there are incidents in Springfield that show this.

But this month there's a problem that has police worried for the body cams.

Police have to double tap the device to turn on the video and audio.

Body cameras in Springfield have proven their worth, said Police Chief Kenny Winslow.

"They bring a sense of transparency to the department,” the Chief said.

Across the nation, there’s an evolution of how we view police.

From Ferguson to the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, officer-involved shootings have sparked questions of police integrity.

“It does have that effect in the media,” Chief Winslow said. “It's that multiplier, but the reality is we ask people, ‘What are your individual experiences with our officers?' and with that said, we try to learn about what happens nationally and take those lessons learned and apply them here so we don't make those same mistakes."

Deputy Chief Dyle Stokes led the body cam management in 2016.

"Police were being questioned more and more, we believe in our officers here,” said Dep. Chief Stokes. “We really do and we felt that if we can get the best of both worlds, by having a body camera that protected their interest, their integrity, our department's integrity, then that would be a win for everybody."

Springfield police see less than 30 formal complaints a year.

Many times, Chief Winslow said, they're settled using body cam footage.

"Tunnel vision,” he said. “They see their side and not everyone else’s side and when they sit down and look at the entire video, they're kind of, sometimes shocked about 'oh that's not how I remember it, I’m sorry’.”

The video can protect police, like Springfield officer John Shea.

The state's attorney justified Officer Shea using deadly force on 27-year-old Daniel Rogers last year. Investigators say footage shows the suspect initially striking Shea, breaking his bones.

But it can also protect civilians.

"Ultimately we had an officer who was found guilty of misconduct,” said Chief Winslow.

Officer Samuel Rosario was charged with battery in 2017.

His hearing is coming up on March 23rd.

These days, body cameras are widely accepted by both the police and the community, but it hasn’t always been that way."

“It was like big brother looking over them,” said Chief Winslow. “And there was some apprehension initially and for some, there still may be."

Even Springfield’s mayor second-guessed the initiative back at the end of 2016.

"Initially I was hesitant because it was a new legislation in the state legislature and really,” he said. “It comes down to cost."

Chance Warnisher was one of the original officers with a body cam.

“My biggest concern is,” he said. “Something that I see, that the camera doesn't."

The department answers 130,000 plus distress calls a year.

Warensher said over time, he realized the cams were improving service.

"Being a police officer,” he said. “It's not only about serving and protecting, it's about being a part of the community."

A year later, now there is a new problem.

"It's something we don't want to do and we hope we don't have to do,” said Chief Winslow.

The city's $11 million budget deficit.

"We're being conscientious and cautious,” said the mayor. “I presented [the budget] so it's now their turn to change it."

By “they” he means the Springfield aldermen. They may choose to cut body cam funding to fill the budget hole.

"What's the long-term impact of those cuts,” said the mayor. “So you don't want to be penny wise pound foolish and that's what will happen with the body cameras if they cut that out."

It would save $135,000 a year.

"If that's something we're tasked with cutting a certain percentage,” said the Chief. “I need bodies after you take that away, there's not a whole lot of money left over for capital expenditures."

It's something the community may have to let go.

"We tell our officers; this is your movie. Write your script. Start it from the time that you are in the car,” said the Chief. “You're dispatched to the call, to the time you clear the call."

The police chief said the majority of the community supports their local police departments.

He hopes to hold onto these body cameras as a way to keep the transparency and build the community-police relationships.

"I’m proud of it,” said Chief Winslow. “It's something I don't want to see cut. I think it will lead to a more transparent police department and working relationship with the public."

The mayor's proposed budget to city council includes about $3 million in cuts.

He said he did not include the body cameras because he wishes to keep them.

Ultimately the decision comes down to the Springfield aldermen.

They hope to pass a budget by February 20th. The deadline is March 1st.

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