With the way technology has taken over our world the idea of being caught on camera is not such an invasion of privacy as it once was. With traffic cams, satellites, and just about every person carrying a cell phone so they can make sure they take that selfie or capture that moment, the idea of cameras all around us is just something that we are getting used to. The climate that law enforcement seems to be in these days reflects that, as the use of body cameras is almost a must have. At the beginning of April, Riverbank Police Services added Axon body cameras to their everyday gear. Now their code of conduct and professionalism will be caught on camera along with potential suspects, crimes, and providing a live view of what deputies have to deal with out on the streets of Riverbank.
The body cameras were passed on to RPS from the main office of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Jeff Dirkse expedited the timeline along with the county securing funding for them.
“It has been a healthy thing for all of us just because that old adage a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s true,” stated Chief Erin Kiely. “Video is even better than a picture. It is a great process for all entities of the criminal justice system to get their arms around the case and what it involves.”
Returning Sergeant James Walsh and Sergeant Lloyd MacKinnon joined forces at RPS this past February where they both requested to work in Riverbank.
“It’s not like we got sent out here,” added MacKinnon. “We chose to be out here. We chose to serve this community. We wanted to be here. We are happy to be here.”
Sworn staff from the Sergeants on down will be wearing the body cams which already have been very beneficial to the deputies. MacKinnon explained that while documenting a vehicle accident he was able to take a 360 of the vehicle and the damage so the facts are clearly viewed.
He added that another way the camera can be used was if they needed to look in a window or an attic they can remove the camera from their vest and view those places as they see real-time coverage.
“The first day we had them we put them on and we instantly loved them,” said MacKinnon. “We went out there and did our job like we normally do. It was very evident that it put some of the members of the public kind of on edge being on camera the same way it kind of makes a lot of people behave and being more cordial to us, at least what I have noticed.”
“It makes us accountable for how we behave,” stated Walsh. “It also shows transparency to the public. We are out there doing the job that they are paying us to do and being professional.”
During the month of April the deputies have been adjusting with the new body cams and making sure that they turn them on and off as well as being aware of where they are and not to obstruct them.
Although there are some people that really don’t care how they act whether you have a camera on them or not, there are those that may think twice before harassing a deputy or resisting arrest.
There was a domestic violence call where deputies were able to capture the moment when they entered the home, the condition the victim was in and the suspect that was yelling on the scene. It painted a very clear picture of what occurred during that particular call, officials said, which was able to help the case.
The ability to watch critical incidents and other calls can also be used for training purposes.
“Essentially we have this tool now to make ourselves better not only tactically but any other thing that we do that we can improve,” said MacKinnon. “I think after that first day when people went out and did their job and watched their videos and saw it, everybody on my squad and the guys I supervise were pretty receptive and said this is great to have.”
“We have always had a good rapport with the citizens of the county and all the contract cities,” stated Walsh. “In the past there was no need for them but times are changing and these body cameras are going to be beneficial. They are going to be beneficial in criminal cases, civil cases, and as Sergeant MacKinnon said, training to help us improve to do our job better in the future.”
Walsh and MacKinnon not only share an office now working side by side but they did so during their time at the main office working the South Modesto area.
Prior to his return Walsh spent some time in Riverbank as a patrolman from 2000 to 2004 then worked at the main office and came back in 2008 as a general crimes detective until August of 2011. He lived in Riverbank and his kids attended California Avenue Elementary, Cardozo Middle School and Riverbank High School. At that time he was a softball coach, baseball coach and volunteered with the NJROTC at the high school.
“I know a lot of people,” added Walsh. “I have watched kids grow up here. Unfortunately some did not turn out as well as I wanted them to but there were (also) some that actually became police officers, sheriff deputies and they work with us.”
With 18 years in law enforcement MacKinnon has worked various assignments including a K9 officer for eight years and the crime reduction team for over a year with robbery and homicide. He was promoted to sergeant and worked in general crimes investigations for a few years as a detective sergeant.
“This is a great community,” expressed MacKinnon. “When I eat at Perkos members of the community are always coming up to me and saying hi and thanks. I am not used to that. So it feels great being back in a community that appreciates us.”
“I love being back,” agreed Walsh. “Riverbank is a very unique community. No matter where you go people still wave at you.”