Not all law enforcement agencies in WNC use body cameras

Rutherfordton police chief Kevin Lovelace rose the ranks in his decades-long career doing police work. In his office,...

Posted: Apr 4, 2018 2:23 PM
Updated: Apr 4, 2018 2:23 PM

Rutherfordton police chief Kevin Lovelace rose the ranks in his decades-long career doing police work. In his office, to the left of his desk, hangs a framed newspaper clipping that announced the news to the town that he had been appointed police chief. Along with the newspaper are photos of him when he first worked as a sheriffs deputy and then as a Rutherfordton patrolman.

Even back then, before he was chief, Lovelace said he knew the important role police body cameras would have in any department he would run.

"Our primary objective is to find the truth," Lovelace said. "And, if there's video of that incident, then there is no question about what the truth is."

Lovelace said he began equipping his officers with body cameras in 2007, which was the earliest News 13 could find that any municipality began using them.

Lovelace showed News 13 the Wolfcam body camera worn by a corporal, affixed in the midchest area on the officer's uniform. Lovelace said he's never doubted the role the cameras play in officer's work with the public and in general to maintain department transparency.

The vast majority of small towns News 13 contacted have police departments using or in the process of getting body cameras for officers.

Lake Lure's small department has had officers using them for the past year. Forest City police plan to have officers equipped by this summer, and Canton started having officers wear cameras in February.

The use of body cameras by area sheriffs departments is not nearly as prevalent.

Rutherford County is doing a year-long test run. Sheriff Chris Francis said the officers, so far, are pleased with the cameras and their purpose.

But other sheriffs, some of whom asked not to be named, said they're not convinced of the usefulness of body cameras and are still taking a wait and see approach.

Yancey County sheriff Gary Banks thinks, all too often, body cameras poorly depict what took place. Banks also said the sheriff's faces serious budget challenges and the cost to purchase cameras, at this point, is not a priority in the county.

Sheriff's offices in Mitchell, Macon, Haywood, Henderson and McDowell counties do not have body cameras.

Henderson County sheriff Charles McDonald has gone on the record in the past, saying he did not think body cameras are necessary or beneficial to policing. News 13 could not reach him for comment Tuesday, but, in 2016, McDonald told News 13 the key is to hire the right people.

"People who have not been in a high-stress combat environment, where life or death is at stake and they have to make split second decisions, have no business passing judgement on those that are in those situations," McDonald said.

Polk County Capt. Lowell Griffin, who is running against McDonald in the Republican primary, said he thinks body cameras are essential for transparency.

"It's not enough to say you're transparent, you have to be transparent," Griffin said. "Body cameras are not new technology, they're technology that should be fundamental today. If we have the bodycams, it protects the officers because we now have the total story."

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