Officers have body cameras; years of planning and effort culminate in new tools

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Police Officer Matt Weir, portraying Queen singer Freddie Mercury belts out the last few lines as they film the final scene for the department’s Lip Sync Challange video in downtown Fort Dodge.

A number of longtime projects for the Fort Dodge Police Department came to fruition in 2018, as the department also continued its efforts to develop relationships with the community.

Fort Dodge Police Chief Roger Porter said every officer on the department now has a body camera, which is the culmination of several years of planning to get one for all of the officers.

While they’re not perfect in that they don’t give a full, 360-degree picture of what’s happening, Porter said body cameras are a very helpful tool for law enforcement.

“It helps us go back and review crime scenes,” he said. “Sometimes you pick something up with a camera that you missed with the eye. That helps document crime scenes, it helps with court cases. You have that video right there. It’s another tool.”

The department also adopted a new record management system with Zuercher Technologies, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The system combines the department’s record management system with its computer-aided dispatch system, and provides an easier way for officers from different departments to share information with each other.

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Deann Faiferlick, at left, along with her husband, Justin Faiferlick, right, demonstrate a self defense tactic for someone on the ground with Fort Dodge Police Officer Caitlyn Carlyle, center, posing as the attacker in Snell-Crawford Park. The group taught the Fight Like a Girl self defense class in the park on June 30, 2018.

Ever since the department adopted Zuercher in October, Porter has been asking officers and the department’s support staff how the system has been working for them.

He described what he’s heard as “good, positive feedback.”

He specifically cited comments made by Brandi Weinzetl, the department’s evidence technician. It’s cut her time filing reports down significantly.

“It would take her sometimes a week to get accomplished,” he said. “Now she’s able to get it done in an hour with the system. It’s saving a lot of time and a lot of wasted energy when we could focus that on other things.”

Internally, the department also made a few changes. They’ve started a vision committee, which looks at ways of improving the department.

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Police Sgt. Zach Stanley demonstrates the outcome of breaking into a vehicle, a pair of steel handcuffs and a trip to jail.

“That’s officers from various ranks that are looking at different things,” he said. “How can we improve morale? How can we improve perception, and what can we do to make contacts with the public and positive contacts with the public?”

Officers’ uniforms also look a little bit different, as Porter said they now wear external vests that hold their body armor in place. Before, the vests were worn underneath the officer’s shirt.

“You had to wear them all day,” Porter said. “If you came in here, you really couldn’t strip them off.”

The change in uniform is meant to improve the health of the department’s officers.

“Those external vests are taking off some of the weight that the officers carry on their belts, on their hips,” he said.

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
The Fort Dodge/Webster County Citizens Academy at the Fort Dodge Police Department have been popular. Forms are available to download and print online. The Academy occurs several times a year.

This transfers the weight to the officer’s shoulders, which helps improve their back health. Porter said one of the most common injuries for law enforcement officers is back pain, and it’s because the officers have to carry their belts and equipment for 12 hours a day.

“By transferring that weight, we’re hoping to have a healthier department,” he said. “We’re trying to alleviate some of those issues.”

He said officers consulted with local chiropractors when deciding what the best method was and they recommended the new vests.

The department also continues its efforts to improve community relations, something Porter said is a major goal of the department.

Officers keep data on what he called “citizen contacts,” that being when officers interact with the public in a situation that doesn’t involve an emergency.

In December alone, Porter said officers met with 564 individual people.

“That can be anything as simple as having an officer talk to a driver’s ed class about OWI (operating while intoxicated) or safe driving,” he said. “We talk a lot in programs at the schools.”

Officers will also speak to civic groups as well.

“I get contacted all the time about wanting to come do a talk on a specific topic here or there,” he said, adding that some officers on the department are involved in different community boards.

This year, Porter said the department is looking at making some internal changes.

One of those goals is to update the Police Department’s policies and procedures, including the field training officer program.

“We’re rebuilding that program,” he said. “That’s something that we kind of go over every year, but we want to make some changes to that. Basically, we’re at a point right now where we need to go back and rebuild a lot of things, get them up to date.”

Training will also be another focus of the new year, with four officers expected to head to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s leadership academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Porter, a graduate of the program himself, said it’s a three-phase program, which each phase being geared towards a specific leadership rank.

One class deals with sergeants, another with lieutenants and captains, and the third with upper department management such as chiefs and assistant chiefs.

Porter said the department has a large amount of young officers who want to develop their skills.

“We want to continue down that path,” he said.