Internal affairs case highlights how valuable police body cameras are in West Palm Beach

Internal affairs case highlights how valuable police body cameras are in West Palm Beach

The West Palm Beach Police Department's new body cameras are already paying for themselves according to the chief of police. The FOX 29 investigators have obtained a copy of the first internal affairs case to come through the department that showcases the new technology.

The case investigates allegations of excessive force by an officer. The body camera offers a first person perspective of the incident.

It's the kind of visual evidence the family of Corey Jones has been wishing was available since he was shot to death in October.

"We want the truth to come out," said Jones' family attorney Benjamin Crump at a news conference last month. The pain and frustration from Corey Jones' family has been clear since the shooting. The facts have not.

Palm Beach Gardens Officer Noumann Raja has given his version of events. The events that led him shooting and killing Jones in Palm Beach Gardens at three in the morning while broken down on an I-95 off ramp.

If Officer Raja was wearing a body camera the debate and conjecture may have ended long ago.

"Investigating citizen complaints and uses of force is something that we spend a lot of time doing," said West Palm Beach Police Chief Bryan Kummerlen.

We sat down with Chief Kummerlen to watch body camera video of a recently closed internal affairs case. The investigation started when a suspect filed a citizen complaint after his arrest in August. Chief Kummerlen says the video makes the complaint even more troubling.

After his arrest the man in the video, who we won't identify since he hasn't been charged with a crime, filed a citizen complaint saying the officer intentionally "abused him,  ignored his disability" and he says the officer threw him "into the wall."

"Not seeing any of that;" said Chief Kummerlen as we watched the video together.

That's because it didn't happen. For about 3 minutes the body camera video shows two officers slowly, gently and quietly walking the suspect to their police car.

"Is there any doubt that this person filed a false report?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma.  "No," said Kummerlen. "There's no doubt in my mind that's a false report."

West Palm Beach internal affairs investigated 88 citizen complaints in 2012, 93 in 2013 and 55 last year. Often the investigations soak up countless hours.

"In this (case) we were able to handle it administratively and very quickly," said Kummerlen.  The Chief says the body camera video offers such clear evidence that the officer accused of excessive force never even had to be put on administrative leave, which is often the case with allegations as serious as these.

So far this year, records from West Palm Beach Police show there are five fewer citizen complaints than at this point last year. Since West Palm just introduced body cameras in August, and there are still only 175 of 250 cameras in use, Chief Kummerlen believes those numbers will continue to improve.

"I'm very confident that we'll see a decrease in uses of force and citizen complaints," said Kummerlen.

Chief Kummerlen is also quick to point out there are no silver bullets in police work.

"It's a tool, it's not a cure all, end all to everything," said Kummerlen

Which is evident in police body camera video found across the internet. Any time there is a physical struggle or even a foot chase, body camera video can become so distorted it's nearly useless.

"It captures incidents from the officer's perspective but it might not capture the entire incident," said Kummerlen.

Which means it is possible, even if Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Raja were wearing a body camera when he shot Corey Jones, investigators may be no better off.

"I won't comment on any specific cases whether it's Palm Beach Gardens or Ferguson," said Kummerlen.

"I know this is something our community wanted and I think these cameras will back us up 99% of the time."

So far the Boca Raton Police Department is the only other department in and around Palm Beach County even testing body cameras right now. Whether or not Boca Raton PD will start using body cameras permanently is still unclear. As for West Palm PD, Chief Kummerlen says all of his uniformed officers will be wearing a body camera by the end of November.

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