Anytime you come into contact with a Fort Collins police officer downtown, you should assume you are being recorded, according to FoCo Police Chief John Hutto.
Chief Hutto and several other Fort Collins police officers met with members of the Fort Collins community last night to explain why they intend to equip every officer patrolling in the downtown area with a body-worn camera during patrols.
The body-worn cameras are small, pen-sized devices that can be worn on the officer’s ear, hat, or somewhere on their head, to record video of police interactions. The policy around the devices dictates that anytime an officer comes into contact with a citizen, the officer must record the interaction.
Officers are not required to inform citizens that they are being recorded.
“If you’re dealing with a uniformed officer, chances are you’re being recorded,” Hutto said. “That’s the message that we need to get out there.”
Sgt. Cory Christensen, who attended the meeting to explain the technology behind the cameras, stated that the purpose of the device is to make sure that every interaction between a police officer and a citizen is depicted accurately. He explained that this increases accountability for both the officer and the citizen in any given situation.
“What’s really important is that we are accurately depicting it from start to finish,” Christensen said. “We’re getting the whole story.”
The citizens that attended the community gathering had many questions for the officers. The primary concern of the crowd was why Hutto was not requiring his officers to inform citizens that they were being recorded.
“I’m hesitant to make a police officer do something if its not legally required,” Hutto said. “If an officer is running up to break up a fight, I don’t want them to be worrying about a procedure like that.”
Sgt. Christensen added that the cameras are very obviously placed on the police officer’s head, and can be easily noticed by any citizen.
“We’re not trying to hide these cameras in any way,” Christensen said.
One crowd member asked why the cameras weren’t going to be recording all the time. He suggested that if each police officer has discretion over whether or not to record, an officer could choose to not record an interaction in which he or she was not treating the citizen properly.
Hutto emphasized that if any interaction was not recorded, the officer would be questioned as to why he or she did not turn the camera on.
Another crowd member was concerned that if a citizen was traumatized from being in a frightening situation, they would not want to be recorded by a police officer. He asked if a citizen like this could opt out of being recorded.
Hutto said that, though unfortunate, evidence often needs to be gathered in difficult situations.
“Sometimes we have to take pictures and record people in the worst moments of their lives,” Hutto said. “We need the very best evidence we can get. Those initial comments and reactions (to the situation) will be lost forever without being recorded.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Hutto expressed his confidence in his officers using the body cameras properly.
“There will be a video at some point that shows an officer doing something wrong,” Hutto said. “But the vast majority will show them doing something right.”
Collegian Crime Reporter Caitlin Curley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.