DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When recruits practice with the virtual scenario simulator at Daytona State College, they’re wearing their uniform and carrying a mock handgun.
They’re also wearing a mock body camera.
In fact, everywhere and every day at the academy, recruits are wearing a body camera.
They’re given a practice body camera on day one of their academy training.
Officer Monica Lee of the Daytona Beach Police Department is one of the new body camera instructors at Daytona State College since the college added body-camera training to its police academy several months ago.
“I do not leave the building without my camera,” Lee said. “I do not leave without my vest and I do not leave without my camera. For me it’s part of a tool. It’s like going to work without a gun these days.”
Some police departments offer little to no training on operating body cameras and tell officers to learn to use them when they hit the streets, essentially trial by fire.
Lee said calls for service often don’t allow for fumbling with a body camera.
“When you get on the call, there are a hundred and one things going on, with witnesses running to you, suspects running away,” Lee said.
“[At the academy] they get used to activating their cameras, deactivating their cameras, getting used to policy and tagging videos,” Lee said.
Evan Doyle runs the law enforcement academy at the college.
“We know very well that stress affects the body’s ability to do certain things so we’re really trying to just develop muscle memory,” Doyle said.
Body cameras are no longer an accessory or an afterthought, Doyle said. They are now part of a larger policing system.
“It’s not just filming interactions, it serves as our evidence database. It serves as an officer safety tool, it serves as a measure of accountability for the communities we serve in,” Doyle said.
Doyle said recruits are taught to become comfortable with body cameras to learn how to use them as they were intended, rather than a distraction.
“If you’re focusing on the little things it’s really hard to get the big things right,” Doyle said. “That way, when they respond to a call, it’s one less thing they have to think about. They do it automatically and are able to focus on the more important things that are taking place.”
Daytona State College said integrating body-camera training into its law enforcement academy is so novel that when it asked the body camera company for a mock-up camera for the trainees to wear daily throughout the entire six-month course, the camera company didn’t have a mock-up version and made a model specifically for the college.
Lee said after the recruits graduate from the academy, at the Daytona Beach Police Department they are given an additional 12 weeks of classroom training with body cameras and 12 more weeks of on-the-street training before they are sent out on their own.