On Tuesday, Aspen city council approved a contract with Axon Enterprises to outfit every Aspen police officer with a body camera for the next five years. It’s the result of a push for more transparency from within the department itself.
The small black camera that every Aspen police officer wears on their chest isn’t recording all the time. Officers are required to start a video whenever they go out on a call. However, the device does have what's called a pre-event buffer; any video includes 30 seconds prior to the moment the camera was activated.
At the end of their shift, officers upload videos and use them when filling out reports.
The department has been in a trial period with the technology since the beginning of the year. Officer Dan Davis says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
In 2013, when he first started discussing the idea with Chief Richard Pryor, it was not.
"We had officers that threatened to quit," he said.
He says most officers now understand that body cams protect both the public and the police.
"I’d rather have this than have to try to defend myself against something when it’s my word against theirs," he said. For example, a citizen called in a complaint after Davis responded to a call while wearing a body cam a couple of years ago; he knew the allegations against him were false.
"I literally sat down, made a cup of coffee and said, 'Look at the video,' " he said.
There are some downsides to the technology. Because they're worn on the chest, if an officer turns their head, but not their body, to look at something, the camera won't capture it.
Also, the video might show much more from a scene than what an officer was actually focused on.
"Just because the camera sees it doesn’t mean I saw it," said Davis.
Another benefit of the cameras could be that they help diffuse heated situations. Davis says the behavior of both officers and the public improves when they know they're being recorded.
"Everyone minds their p's and q's a little bit more on both sides," he said.