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DPS chief believes body cameras give perspective, serve truth after Ferguson

FILE - In this July 23, 2015, file photo, Ferguson police Sgt. Dominica Fuller wears a body camera as she speaks during an interview in Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

PHOENIX — After a recent announcement that a Scottsdale-based company would offer free body cameras to police officers, Arizona Department of Public Safety Col. Frank Milstead offered support for the idea.

Milstead, who was Mesa’s chief of police from 2010 to 2015, told Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on KTAR News 92.3 FM that his city was the first in Arizona to implement body cameras. And while it originally drew push-back, Mesa found that the cameras improved the quality of their police service.

“I think it’s great,” Milstead said of the cameras. “It was met with some objection from the (Mesa) officers at the time. And when we did our first test, we had people who volunteered to be part of it and we had people who were volun-told. It was very interesting to see what happened. Our use-of-force complaints went down, our discourteous complaints went down.

“Everybody’s a little politer on camera.”

Milstead explained the importance of body cameras and said that officers might be more open to it after the controversial death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After the incident, Officer Darren Wilson went into hiding as he received death threats, despite twice being exonerated.

The colonel didn’t mince words.

“When something happened that was misreported by the media, jumped to conclusion, villainized this officer before the facts were really out,” Milstead said. “But once the tale had been told, there was no bringing it back. But the camera can tell the truth.”

Milstead also said no officer wants to be the subject of a viral video.

Nonetheless, Milstead’s sentiment wasn’t just about protecting officers. He said officers who watch their own body camera footage will be able to do their jobs better and, ultimately, better serve the public.

“I think as we, as law enforcement, watch ourselves in practice and realize how things (seem) in perception, we will get better at the profession at representing ourselves, the agencies, and giving people that world class police service that we’ve always wanted to do.”

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