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Lockport buys new police bodycams to replace models that failed in key cases

A lack of video evidence has impeded the investigation of two major cases in Lockport, but acting Police Chief Douglas E. Haak Jr. hopes new body cameras will prevent the problems from happening in the future.

The Common Council voted unanimously last week to spend $53,320 to buy 40 new cameras for its patrol officers.

Haak said the new cameras are expected to arrive by the end of this month and should be in use by the second week of November.

The new cameras will replace the 2014 models that failed to work as they should have in the two cases.

On the night of June 16, four Lockport police officers tried to subdue Troy A. Hodge outside his home.

Police said he was armed with a knife and may have been under the influence of drugs. Hodge's family said he was zapped with a Taser and unjustifiably beaten.

Hodge stopped breathing at the end of the struggle and was pronounced dead in the early hours of June 17. The State Attorney General's Office is investigating to see if criminal charges should be filed against any of the officers.

On Oct. 17, 2017, drug felon Frank D'Angelo battled with another Lockport officer on Tudor Lane.

The officer said D'Angelo squared off as if to fight him. D'Angelo said the officer repeatedly punched him and struck him with a flashlight, breaking his jaw, his nose and both eye sockets.

D'Angelo filed a police brutality suit against the city in U.S. District Court.

In both cases, the body cameras that officers were wearing, which might have shown what happened, didn't work properly.

In the Hodge case, one officer's camera fell off and another wasn't turned on, former interim Police Chief Steven C. Preisch said at the time.

The only video record of the incident appears to be a cellphone video posted to YouTube that doesn't actually show the fight. A voice, presumably Hodge's, is audible, shouting twice, "Mom, don't let them kill me."

In the D'Angelo case, the bodycam shut off just as the suspect turned off the vehicle in which he was sitting, according to court papers. By the time another officer arrived and turned on his camera, the fight was over.

When Lockport police received their first bodycams in 2014, then-Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said they might have saved the city "tens of thousands of dollars" in legal fees in a lawsuit filed by an intoxicated man who fell down a flight of stairs in his uncle's house in 2007 and was left a quadriplegic.

The plaintiff, Christopher M. Bower, originally contended that an officer investigating a burglar alarm pushed him down the stairs. The police officers said Bower fell because he was drunk. The lawsuit dragged on for six years before it was dismissed.

Bodycams "are an inevitable evolution of police equipment that will become universal in the next five years," said Thomas H. Burton, an attorney who often represents police officers, including the four being investigated in the Hodge case.

"If you're going to do it, do it with the best possible equipment," Burton said.

Haak said Lockport's new cameras, made by Axon Enterprise, are more durable and have a longer battery life than the old ones.

Preisch asked for cameras that would start automatically, instead of the officer having to press a button.

Preisch said when he asked the Council to buy new cameras that the old batteries weren't strong enough to last an entire eight-hour shift, but the city's computer servers didn't have enough capacity to upload eight hours of video anyway.

Haak said the new system will allow the Police Department to upload video to the computer "cloud" rather than relying on onsite servers, so the capacity issue should be solved.

Officers will be required to wear the cameras at all times, and a magnetic mounting system, not a clip, should keep them in place better.

"Those issues should be irrelevant now," Haak said.

The 40-bodycam purchase includes two spares, data storage space and a five-year extended warranty, he said. Cameras will be issued to all patrol officers, the K-9 officer and the school resource officer.

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