Cop body cameras shows another side of the job

Posted at 12:05 AM, May 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-20 07:16:46-04

Punched, pushed, and kicked on the job - body camera videos are showing a police perspective you've never seen before.

In the first six months of body camera use at the West Palm beach Police Department, officers made 18 arrests for charges of battery on an officer and resisting arrest with violence. Now, we're seeing the violent encounters those officers had to endure.

In one video you see five officers on one man and a recording of a struggle. But, now that officers are recording arrests from start to finish, you get to see what led up to the struggle.

"Some times the officer that's actually involved in that physical part the video is like all over the place, but what's important is what happens before and just after," said Detective Chris Chase, West Palm Beach Police Department.

One of Chase's arrests show him responding to a trespassing call. Other officers were already on scene. The moment he walks up and makes contact with Shawn Thomas, the situation escalates quickly.

In the video you can see Thomas telling Chase to stop approaching him. Then, he pours a clear liquid out of a plastic bottle onto Chase and other officers nearby. Officer Chris Rekdhal's body camera shows him taking down Thomas.

"If we get to a use of force, that's what it's [body camera video] there for so we can correctly document everything that took place from beginning to end," added Chase.

This is just one of 18 incidents of battery on an officer captured in the first six months of the department's body camera use. In five of those incidents, the body cameras weren't activated. Officers said they did not have time to turn them on.

"In this case I just felt that I used my discretion to turn it off simply because I thought that this would be one of those cases where she would just calm down and we could just move to another place," Chase explained one of his arrests where a woman was kicked out of a downtown nightclub.

But the situation took a quick turn.  Chase didn't start recording the arrest till Jakia Brown was already on the ground.

"I thought they were supposed to be on at all time when they were making an arrest," said Kaneisha Ferguson, Brown's mother as she was watching the body camera video of her daughter's arrest for the first time.

The policy at the West Palm Beach Police Department requires officers to activate their body wearing cameras any time they have interaction with a person. They're also allowed to turn it off at their discretion.

"I'm a proponent of recording as much as you possibly can and if its just benign video then administration can review and delete," said Robert Buccholz, a former New York State police captain.

Buccholz thinks body cameras should be recording at all time for the protection of the officer. Without any other camera angles, the take down in Brown's arrest may have seemed excessive. In Detective Chase's video you see a few officers on a small woman.

"I'm sure the onlooker would say that's unnecessary, it's unreasonable force, you guys are beating this girl," added Chase.

The other officers body camera videos reveal Brown was actually resisting, slipped out of handcuffs, and at one point kicked Chase.

"To see this, it's crazy cause she was telling me I’m going to a little club with my friends and I was like you already know you’re not supposed to be drinking and I’m looking at a video of my daughter highly intoxicated," added Ferguson.

Buccholz says these incidents are perfect examples of how the cameras show why force was used before, during, and after an arrest.

"That's the type of transparency that we need in law enforcement," said Buccholz.

Detective Chase agrees the body cameras help paint the whole picture, but it's not a perfect system.

"I'm still kind of adjusting, I think it's easier for those officers that are just starting on this job and haven't really been doing it for all that long, where they are being trained from the beginning with the use of body cameras," added Chase, who has been with the West Palm Beach Police Department for three years. He has been a police officer for seven years.

In the two arrests where Chase was attacked, both people were charged with battery on an officer among other charges and are awaiting hearings.