TWIN FALLS — When Medina Alajbegovic first found out nearly two years ago that she and the other officers in her police squad would be adding body cameras to their uniforms, she welcomed the news.
“I thought it was a great idea,” she said, “just because of watching videos of other departments that were using them.”
Alajbegovic, who was one of the first Twin Falls police officers to get a body camera, has had her calls and traffic stops recorded since August 2016. Since then, the department has gradually equipped all of its uniformed personnel with cameras.
As of April, all regular uniform patrol officers, traffic officers, school resource officers and special investigation unit officers in Twin Falls — currently, 67 people overall — don the tiny, lightweight cameras on their uniforms. Most interactions, with the exception of peaceful demonstrations and some extremely sensitive interviews, are recorded.
The use of body cameras by law enforcement has grown across the U.S. in recent years, in part due to a public demand for increased transparency after a wave of highly publicized officer-involved shootings.
But body cameras don’t just benefit the public — they’re a helpful tool for law enforcement as well, members of the Twin Falls Police Department and others say.
A 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of law enforcement across the country — 66 percent — supported the use of body cameras to record interactions with the public.
While some departments have reported internal backlash to the police cam movement, Twin Falls police “didn’t have any issues,” according to Staff Sgt. Brent Wright.
“I think that was partially based on the fact that we did move as slow as we did and that we included a lot of people in the discussions,” Wright said. “It was just normal business.”
August 2016 wasn’t the first time that Twin Falls police had used cameras to document interactions with citizens: The department has used in-car video recording for two decades.
The goal of introducing body cameras was to encourage better behavior and accountability for both officers and citizens, a spokesmen for the department said at the time the cameras were first announced.
But the introduction of the cameras raised some questions and concerns about privacy as well. County Prosecutor Grant Loebs wondered at the time whether the cameras could lead people to avoid talking to the police for fear of being recorded.
The extent to which the body cameras have been successful in promoting good behavior on all sides — or discouraging people from speaking with police — is difficult to quantify. The department has not done a formal study of the body cams’ effects.
What is known: Footage from the cameras has been used to assist in prosecutions in court, as well as in internal investigations stemming from complaints against officers. Video captured with a body camera has led to the exoneration of multiple officers in internal investigations, Wright said.
“It definitely helps us show our side of the stop or our side of the call,” Alajbegovic said. “I love it.”