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Okmulgee Police Chief: Body Cameras Will Protect Officers, Citizens

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OKMULGEE, Oklahoma -

Body cameras are becoming part of the police uniform for more Green Country officers. The Okmulgee Police Chief says just like guns, body cameras can protect his officers and the public. 

Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice wants to stress this is not a result of Ferguson, or President Obama's mission to get more officers wearing body cameras, but says he has been budgeting for vehicle cameras and body cameras for years and now the funding in place.

Last week, News On 6 showed captivating video from a Muskogee police officer body camera. It captured him rescuing a man, trapped under a truck, feet away from flames. 

1/12/2015 Related Story: Body Camera Captures Muskogee Officer In Action At House Fire

Police Chief Joe Prentice believes body cameras are becoming as important as the badge.

"We have guns. We have pepper spray. We have electronic controlled devices. We have all of those tools. This is a tool that we don't have that we see will be useful," said Police Chief Joe Prentice. 

City council members voted Tuesday to allow the entire Okmulgee Police force to be outfitted with the Taser Axon Flex. The cameras, worn on the shoulder or collar, are always in stand-by mode.

Officers have to press a button to turn on the camera when interacting with a civilian. 

"There's always a he-said she-said element to it. With video, there's no mistaking what happened. It's on video," said Chief Joe Prentice.

A year-long study of a California police department, wearing body cameras, found that the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent, and use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent. 

"It's just an additional layer of protection for both the officer and the public," said Chief Joe Prentice. 

Right now, Okmulgee police have four vehicle cameras, they shoot both the front of the car and the rear. The department could outfit all of its vehicles with those cameras, but the chief says it will cost about $100,000. He says he can outfit all of his officers with body cameras for just about $20,000. 

"Ideally, we would like to have body-worn cameras for every officer and on-board cameras for all of our patrol cars," said Chief Joe Prentice. 

Grant money and drug forfeiture funds will pay for the 30 body cameras. 

The finances are figured out, but the chief still isn't sure how to store captured video and for how long. Prentice says there will probably eventually be legislation dictating all that, but for now he'll use common sense.

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