Essex Sheriff’s Dept. first in Mass. to wear body cameras

The video taken from the body camera of an Essex County Sheriff’s officer is raw and real. The blur of bodies rolling on the jail floor mixes with sound of dogs barking and officers shouting commands. Every moment is caught and is reviewable in a way it’s never been seen before.

In this case, two inmates were trying to choke and stab a third inmate in the common area.  When they wouldn’t stop, a German Sheppard and K-9 Officer were sent in with an eyeglass mounted camera rolling. 

The entire incident is preserved and kept so that the officer cannot erase or edit the tape.

“It’s the wave of the future,” said Capt. Shane Ehlers. “The cameras do nothing but save and protect them. It’s another tool to be transparent in the community and the correctional institution.”

The Essex County Sheriff’s Department is the only law enforcement agency in Massachusetts using body cameras. All 18 officers in the K-9 Unit have their own cameras attached to glasses. 

They shared videotape with 7News of two recent incidents; one inside the correctional facility and the other of a suspect who broke into a business in Lawrence.

In light of recent high profile news stories involving videotape evidence taken from cell phone cameras, dashboard cameras and helicopters; some are asking if body cameras will prevent police from crossing the line.

Boston University professor Shea Cronin says cameras alone won’t solve that problem. 

“The reason why body cameras have received such attention and why they seem like such an easy fix is because it’s a piece of technology. Everybody knows how to use it. It can be attached easily. But if it’s not going to be part of a wider accountability system it’s just simply not going to be effective enough.”

Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins agrees and says training and supervision are key to keeping the public, and his officers, safer. 

“It really de-escalates a lot,” the Sheriff says. “In this business, I think any time you can keep hands off of people, that’s the really big tool today.”

Cousins also says officers do act differently when they are videotaping their own actions; and that citizen complaints against officers wearing body cameras are going down.