By Brandi Makuski
Plover police officers now have one more tool at their disposal as they patrol area roads — a body camera.
The department purchased 16 cameras in September for its patrol officers. Chief Dan Ault said it’s just another way his department works to improve service to the community, while simultaneously providing an extra layer of protection for officers.
“I have no doubt officers are out there doing a great job, and that way more good things are going to be captured than bad,” Ault said. “This will greatly reduce liability and improve officers’ safety. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
The cameras can be secured below the left shirt pocket of the department’s uniform, Ault said, and will provide a clear line of sight in front of the officer.
“They have a 30-second pre-event recorder, so if I’m wearing it, and something happens, it’s already in standby,” Ault said. “So I can hit the button and it’ll pick up the 30 second before.”
The cameras are a new form of technology for the department, which does not currently employ dashboard cameras or body microphones — something utilized for several years by other law enforcement agencies in the area.
“We didn’t have anything before this. I had [a local media outlet] ask, ‘Why does a little village like Plover need body cams?’ I actually said, ‘Have you actually been here to see how much we’ve grown?’ We’re a little bit bigger than some people realize,” Ault said.
Ault added it was “a shock” to learn the department didn’t have cameras when he became chief in 2014. In his previous department, police first began recording patrol incidents using large, clunky VHS recorders in their cars. The body cams, he said, are a far better tool.
“It’s going to be giant for us, from a evidentiary perspective. It’ll be giant for OWIs,” Ault said. “During one of the first conversations I had with Louie [Molepske, Portage Co. District Attorney] when I got here, he said, ‘You’ve got to get cameras in Plover.'”
Ault said the cameras will help build better cases and create more accurate reports, “because officers aren’t going just off memory…we’re double-checking our accuracy on top of it — and that’s good policing.”
Each of the cameras cost about $400, according to Ault. Along with docking stations and data storage, the total cost to the department was about $15,000 — money that otherwise would have gone to purchase a new squad car.
“We decided to stretch out the life of that vehicle one more year, so in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really force us to make any changes,” he said. “This cost was already planned in the budget.”
Ault said other departments have experienced a “drastic reduction in use of force complaints” after implementing a camera program.
“It’s not like we have that problem, but the first time someone comes in with a complaint, we can look at the footage,” he said. “Everybody behaves differently on camera. Trust but verify — that’s one of my favorite lines. I’ll hold the officers accountable, and the public can hold me accountable.”