Winston-Salem police to deploy body-worn cameras

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Chief Barry Rountree
Chief Barry Rountree

Following Greensboro’s lead, the Winston-Salem Police Department is deploying 95 body-worn cameras on officers today.

The department installed cameras in police vehicles in 2006 and 2007, and equipped its downtown bike officers with body-worn cameras in late 2011 and early 2012.

“Nobody wants a Ferguson, Missouri,” said Councilman James Taylor, who chairs the public-safety committee. “I believe this is a way to prevent that.”

Police Chief Barry Rountree predicted that equipping officers with body-worn cameras will improve police-community relations.

“We hope it will improve public trust and show we’re being transparent,” he said in an interview after the public-safety committee meeting on Monday.

But as residents of Greensboro have learned in the wake of a controversial arrest and police shooting, members of the public are unlikely to ever see the footage from the body cameras.

“Generally they will not be public record if it’s related to a criminal investigation,” Rountree said.

The chief said the footage will be reviewed by sergeants, noting that the purpose of the cameras is to protect the officers as much as the public.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said. “If the officer is accused of doing something he didn’t do, we’ll have proof. The camera is an unbiased observer.”

City Manager Lee Garrity said the city needs an additional 110 cameras to cover each officer, at a cost of $175,000.

Gardenia Henley, a resident of Walkertown Road, questioned whether officers would delete footage if it reflects that they aren’t acting appropriately.

“I understand the police will be able to delete the information,” she said. “I heard the answers, and they weren’t quite satisfactory. Who’s going to make sure the officers aren’t turning the cameras off when they shouldn’t or that they turn them on when they initiate a stop?”

Rountree said the department’s policy requires officers to turn on the cameras during every encounter with citizens.

“We have to trust our officers, the same way we trust them with expensive equipment,” the chief said. “That’s where training comes in.”