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Midway • Body cameras can be valuable tools for prosecuting domestic violence, documenting incidents moments after they happen and providing compelling evidence to juries, a pair of prosecutors told a gathering of public safety officials and victims advocates Thursday.
In up to 90 percent of cases, domestic violence victims later decide, for a variety of reasons, not to cooperate with prosecutors, said Staley Heatly, a district attorney in Wilbarger County, Texas.
But when officers use body cameras to record statements and reactions when they are still fresh, prosecutors can show jurors all the evidence they need without having to rely on testimony from the police officer.
"Our goal in every single case is to build a case that is so strong if a victim decides she's not going to show up [for trial] or she shows up and says, 'I'm here to testify for the defendant,' we can say, 'Great, go for it,' " Heatly said. In body-cam footage, jurors can see victims shaking, in tears and agitated right after a domestic assault.
Perpetrators also are often more willing to talk to police in the immediate aftermath, and those statements can also be shown to jurors.
Jeff Case, an investigator in Heatly's office, said police should talk to a suspect before making an arrest, locking him into his version of the story on camera so he can't make up a new version before trial. It's also a matter of fairness, Case said.
Heatly and Case were sharing their experience with body cameras at the 28th-annual Crime Victims Conference sponsored by the Utah Council on Victims of Crime.
Heatly said body cameras also make sure officers are acting professionally and can help identify and correct problems in the way police interact with citizens.
"I think it's inevitable that body cameras will be coming to a jurisdiction near you or to your jurisdiction at some point in the future," Heatly said.
Many Utah agencies are moving in that direction. The Salt Lake City Police Department has been using cameras since 2013, with a goal of having every first responder outfitted with a camera.
Reed Richards, spokesman for the Utah Sheriffs' cq Association and a former prosecutor, said he believes the only limiting factor right now to departments getting the cameras is the cost of both buying the equipment and storing the footage.
"I think everyone knows they're coming and I think most departments and offices would do it right now, because it provides a real investigative tool," he said. "I think we've spent far too much time talking about the logistics and how challenging it might be to do it … and we forget that it's just an incredible tool for solving cases."