Survey: Aspen cop cameras popular, though concerns remain
Nearly three-quarters of Aspenites who responded to the city’s annual community survey strongly or somewhat support local police officers using body cameras to record interactions with the public.
However, a little more than half of those who responded said they thought body cameras would negatively affect citizens’ privacy, and about one-third said they would negatively affect officers’ approachability, according to results of the 2015 City of Aspen Citizen Survey released Tuesday.
“It was a bit of a surprise that it was as supportive as it was by the community,” said Bill Linn, assistant Aspen police chief. “They sent a fairly clear message. “
Still, the fact that 51 percent of respondents felt citizen privacy would be negatively affected is significant, Linn said.
“That’s the one clear thing that hangs out there,” he said. “We’re sensitive to that.”
Thirty-two percent of respondents said officer approachability would be negatively affected, though 49 percent said it would be positively impacted.
Linn said those were the two biggest concerns expressed by survey participants, and police officials plan to be slow and deliberate in determining if Aspen police officers will wear body cameras in the future as a matter of policy.
“We’re not running headlong into anything,” he said.
As for the rest of the impacts of officers wearing the cameras, 64 percent of survey participants said they would positively affect community safety, 69 percent said they would positively affect conflict between police and citizens, and 82 percent said cameras would positively affect interactions between police and citizens.
Overall, 26 percent of respondents said they strongly supported the use of body cameras by police, while 47 percent said they somewhat supported it. Ten percent strongly opposed the use of body cameras, and 17 percent said they somewhat oppose it.
Linn said he was particularly proud that 96 percent of survey participants believed that Aspen officers fairly treat all people.
“We know the community supports us,” he said. “It’s humbling.”
The Aspen Police Department has been experimenting with using body cameras for about two years. Some officers have found the cameras physically annoying, while others objected to the idea of “big brother” watching over their shoulder, Sgt. Dan Davis told The Aspen Times in September.
Davis, however, is the only officer who still consistently wears the camera, and said he believes they keep both officer and citizen behavior in check.
Linn said department officials will digest and talk about the survey results and talk with officers before making a decision about officially using them. Other considerations for such a program include cost and numerous policy questions such as how long to store footage, how to store it, whether video would be subject to open records law and under what circumstances cameras would be used, he said.
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