Westland police show off new body cameras

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
Westland Police Chief Jeff Jedrusik displays the Axon BodyCam 2 at a news conference on October, 24, 2018.

Westland — Police in Westland have, for the last two weeks, been wearing body cameras — and they’ve already prevented at least one false claim from tarnishing the department, Chief Jeff Jedrusik said Wednesday at a press conference on its body camera program.

All 81 sworn officers have been given Axon body cameras, and everyone but undercover officers will be wearing them, Jedrusik said.

The body camera program is the product of two years of research, Jedrusik said. The belief is that both the general public and officers themselves will be better protected by high-definition footage that will allow all to “see what the officer sees,” Jedrusik said.

“This truly benefits the community as a whole,” Jedrusik said.

Already, the Detroit Police Department, Inkster Police Department, as well as Jackson Police Department in Jackson County, are among the police departments in Michigan that wear body cameras. 

Jedrusik recalled an arrest made “the first week” of the body camera experiment that validated the investment.

Westland Police Chief Jeff Jedrusik (right) announced at a news conference that the department will deploy body cameras to all patrol officers.

A man was being arrested and once handcuffed, officers walked him outside to a police car. The man kicked his girlfriend’s cabinet during the walk and claimed officers had pushed him into the cabinet, Jedrusik said. The footage confirmed the officers' accounts.

Westland Police Department implemented dash cameras about two decades ago, Jedrusik recalled. At the time, officers had to switch out videos mid-shift. But the dash cameras missed anything that didn’t take place in front of the camera, rendering it useless for police contacts inside homes and businesses.

As Jeff Goolsby, regional manager for Axon, explained, the body cameras used in Westland will upload once reinserted in their charging docks.

Officers will grab the camera from the charging dock and affix it to the front of their uniforms. They’ll double tap a button in the middle to activate it, which must be done prior to any law enforcement contact with the public. To stop the recording, the officer will hold the button down for 3½ seconds.

The cost to the city, for the five-year program, is $130,000 per year. The city is pursuing a grant from its insurer, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Program, to defray those costs, according to city treasurer Steven Smith.

Half of the department’s plan is to use the footage captured for internal training purposes: what to do, what not to do.

But the other half, Jedrusik said, is the hope that the presence of the camera changes behavior on the front end, as officers realize that their every action and utterance will be uploaded to the cloud.

“Every day is a training day,” Jedrusik said.

The footage will be stored from a range of 90 days, in contacts that result in little to no action, to “indefinitely” in more serious cases, such as homicides, Goolsby said.

Westland Mayor William Wild said Westland "is a city of compassion" and that body cameras will help the police department to be more transparent in interacting with the public.

Mayor William Wild said he hopes the department will “lean-in” to the new technology.

Westland, he said, is a changing community, whose black, Latino, Armenian and Asian communities are growing. Police “take the brunt” of those changing circumstances, and Wild hopes the cameras create a perception that Westland police are transparent and forthright in their dealings.

“Westland is a city of compassion,” Wild said. “But we have to be better and we will be better,” adding that the body camera investment was made “through the lens of racial equality and fairness.”

Rev. John Hearn Jr. speaks as the Westland Police Department announced that all patrol officers will wear a body camera during a news conference on Wednesday in Westland on October, 24, 2018. 
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

The Rev. John Hearn Jr., a board member of the Western Wayne NAACP, said that “in the past, there’s been someone’s word against someone’s else’s word...but cameras don’t lie. We welcome this.”

Jedrusik, too, acknowledged the changing environment for police officers.

“Our word was gold in the past,” Jedrusik said, referring to police generally. “But bad police officers have hurt the reputations of hundreds of thousands of good ones,” causing the public to demand more than just an officer’s account of what happened.

The Rev. John Duckworth, a member of the Inkster Ministerial Alliance, said “police need the community, and the community needs police,” and that if the two sides can’t “live as brothers,” they’ll “die as fools.”

“This allows the bridge of trust to be built between police and the community they serve,” Duckworth said.