Michael Groenewaldt - Darebin City Council, Australia
Michael Groenewaldt of Darebin City Council, Australia, spoke to Reveal about the impact of body worn video on the safety and well being of staff.
Michael Groenewaldt is Team Leader for Local Laws at Darebin City Council in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria. He has a team of 12 staff that report to him who have the power to enforce certain local laws pertaining to the municipality. Together they oversee functions such as animal management, litter and footpath maintenance; all of which in general are about the safety, service and wellbeing of the community.
Unfortunately, the team can sometimes come across aggression when doing their job, and occasionally false complaints would be made against them. When aggressive members of the community and misinformation began causing real problems in his department, Michael looked to Reveal body cameras for help. We spoke to him about his experiences. Here’s what he said:
“Before we invested in the body cameras we had a serious influx of false allegations from members of the public. People were lying about what happened having been caught out by our officers, and it regularly came down to ‘he said, she said’. Physical and verbal assault were also at an alltime high, which was affecting moral and people as they had to take time off work due to injuries. All of this was having drastic impact on our staff, so we thought we really had to look at something that’s going to stop people doing these things.
“Just before we trialled the cameras, one of our officers was assaulted, so we went to police and despite there being witnesses, no evidence was given and it was reduced to the officer’s word against the member of the public’s. The police told us that unless we had an independent witness, we couldn’t do anything about it.
“So we trialled two cameras and again one of our officers was assaulted, but this time we had the camera which had recorded the incident. We gave the footage to the police which ended up in a successful prosecution against the attacker. And we thought - Wow this is what we need, this is what we want."
“We were one of the first councils to do it, so we put together a policy based on the draft that Reveal provided us with, which was very, very helpful as we could build on it. We also looked at police state laws and how police in the UK are using the product and we realised it was not just about cameras but about transferring data and running DEMS in the background too.
“DEMS was the ultimate selling point. It’s a robust product, secure, you can’t tamper with it, the evidence chains mechanisms are built in – these were the things we were concerned about when looking at other types of cameras. They were too open to being misused and people could criticise the authenticity of footage we captured – The Reveal solution is everything we need, a one stop shop. We also looked at a similar body camera, but it recorded to an ‘iCloud’ type system and had an on-going cost and for us we didn’t want that. We wanted something we can control.
“We had some negativity at the start from the unions who thought it could be used against the workforce, but we made it clear through our policies that this was a tool to help them do their job, not to chastise them. If anything, any footage reflected one will be used for training purposes to see how we can do much better if a situation arises again. But their number one purpose is officer safety.
“The cameras had paid for themselves after the first 3 months of having them. We had an incident a few weeks ago for example where we impounded a basketball hoop from a property nearby. We had met with the owner of the basketball hoop and said to him that he couldn’t put the hoop in the road. Members from the local community had made complaints about navigating around it and it was not safe for the children to be playing on the street. So we had spoken once and he had complied, but a little while later the hoop was back outside. As we have the powers to seize a product that is deemed to be unsafe, we went to collect the hoop and remove it from his property. As the gentleman heard the tow truck arrive he come out of the property and we told him that as he had been warned and persisted we had come to remove the hoop. So we took the hoop and left, without a problem.
“The next thing we know is that he has contacted the local radio station and fabricated that his children were in the street playing when it was taken, frightening them, and that he was not informed when it was happening. The local newspaper then ran with an article based on what he said on the front page. Our media team were only notified or asked to comment after the fact and because we were wearing body cameras and had captured the entire visit, we invited them to come and view the footage. They never came; they knew they’d made a mistake.
“This is where the body cameras have been invaluable to us. The footage totally exonerated the officers in their duties and prevented us from having to investigate the matter, spending countless hours and sending emails back and forth. People just have to see the footage and that tells them exactly what had happened. It put my media team, my officers and the whole team in the right and we know we have done the right thing in buying the cameras.
“Another recent example is where a woman had complained that an officer was being rude to her during an interaction. I watched the footage back and disagreed completely with her comments and when I got in touch with her to tell her that we had recorded the interaction on video and that her account did not hold up, we didn’t hear back from her again. Some people these days play the victim when they’re caught out.
“I’ve actually sued somebody for decimation because she lied on the councils Facebook page about myself at work. I showed a law firm the footage of the interaction, we sent a letter to the lady and she removed the post and sent a letter of apology in return. We would not have been able to do without the camera.
“Prior to them coming on board one of teams had between 8 -12 verbal and physical assaults a year, about one a month. This has been reduced dramatically. With me and my team it was mainly verbal assault we had to deal with and now we have the Reveal cameras I’ve not had to deal with any incidents.
“It’s the overtness of the camera too, people look directly at the camera. There’s the flashing red light, loud audible noise; all invaluable tools that the guys are loving because it’s putting them and the person they are speaking to on a level playing field. People calm down and back off. “These camera have been brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."
Learn more about Reveal body cameras by clicking here.