HONOLULU (KHON2) — Body-worn cameras have become an important tool for policing and adding transparency, two police departments in the state are now looking at requiring officers to turn them on sooner, as soon as officers are dispatched to a call. They said this could help improve accountability as well as gather more evidence.

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Recently released body-worn camera footage from the Maui Police Department showed part of the officers’ response during the wildfire disaster on Aug. 8. 

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said he is exploring changing the policy for officers to begin recording once they are dispatched to a call; the current policy is to begin recording at the scene.

Pelletier said,  “We want to make sure that we do that to protect the officer, protect the agency and be as transparent as possible.”

The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers President Robert Cavaco said official conversations about the possible policy change have not happened yet. 

“While the Chief has yet to discuss his proposed policy changes with us, we look forward to hearing his ideas and assessing how we can improve the policy in a way that can be realistically implemented in the field. We think it is important to remember that body cameras do not show the totality of circumstances an officer encounters; they are a single tool that can provide some perspective of an incident, but like all tools, they have limitations. We have been able to find common ground with Chief Pelletier on policy issues in the past and we are hopeful that if he officially proposes policy changes on this issue, we can do so again.”

Robert Cavaco, State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers president

Meanwhile, Hawaii County Police Chief Benjamin Moszkowicz said he has been working with the bargaining units to make a similar change. 

“While they are on the way to the scene to hit that button and start capturing audio and video,” Moszkowicz said. “Then, I think that puts us in a better position so that we don’t have to worry about the chaos of those first couple seconds of that critical incident especially when the public has come to expect body cam footage.”

Moszkowicz points to an officer-involved shooting from Saturday, Sept. 23, he said a man ignored commands from officers and suddenly emerged from a wooded area and began shooting at them.

He said video from body-worn cameras justifies officers returning fire. 

Moszkowicz said, “Basically dispelling any myths that the officers who were out there trying to kill this guy, no.”

For prosecutors, capturing the moments officers are enroute to a scene, it could help gather more evidence and provide a clearer picture to jurors. 

Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen said, “If he’s encountered by an armed gunman if the body-worn camera would have been on at the time of, prior to the officer getting driving enroute to the call that incident may have been recorded the entire incident the officer’s reaction.”

The Kauai Police Department requires body cameras to be turned on once arriving at the scene unless officers are involved in a car pursuit. 

Honolulu Police Department policy states officers should activate their cameras before arriving at a scene, and when activating their blue lights and sirens. 

Honolulu Police Commission Chair Doug Chin said more often than not, officers are cleared of wrongdoing when body-camera footage is reviewed. 

Chin said, “You can’t really argue with body-worn camera footage, it just is what it is and it’s put out there for either commissioners who are reviewing a complaint or a juror who is deciding misconduct.”

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Moszkowicz said the policy change is likely to take effect before the end of this year.