On the Beat in Bluffton

Monday, December 29, 2014

N-B Slideshow: Looking back at 2014

Take a look back at 2014, and catch the Year in Review as part of the Wednesday, Dec. 31, News-Banner. (News-Banner staff photos; video by Jessica Williams)

Monday, December 22, 2014

N-B Photos: 2014 December Dash

The Bluffton Parks and Recreation Department held its December Dash Saturday morning. (Photos by Dave Schultz)

Friday, December 19, 2014

N-B Video: Gabe Bailey, 13, performs

Gabe Bailey, 13, performs at the Arts, Commerce and Visitors Centre Friday for the Wells County Chamber of Commerce's December membership meeting. (Video by Dave Schultz)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NWCS board approves temporary preschool coordinator

The board of Northern Wells Community Schools approved the creation of and the job description for a temporary preschool coordinator. Learn more in the Wednesday, Dec. 17, News-Banner, and check out the documents below. (Click to enlarge)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

N-B Video: Carly Baumgartner

BHS junior Carly Baumgartner talks about her experience interning with the News-Banner this fall with N-B reporter Jessica Williams.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

N-B Video: City, county to discuss Adams Street/200S intersection

Within a month, four vehicles drove through the Adams Street and 200S/Angel Street intersection. Mayor Ted Ellis will be before the Wells County Commissioners Monday to discuss improving the intersection. Learn more in the Saturday, Dec. 13, News-Banner. (Video by Jessica Williams)

N-B Video: Election board meets to discuss complaints

The Wells County Election Board met Thursday to discuss complaints filed following this year's early voting period. Learn more in the Friday, Dec. 12, News-Banner. (Video by Jessica Williams)

Monday, December 8, 2014

N-B Video: Three 'burning' questions for Caroline Shapley

On her last day as a News-Banner intern, Norwell senior Caroline Shapley gets asked three "burning" questions by N-B reporter Jessica Williams.

N-B Slideshow: 2014 Festival of Trees

Photos from the 2014 Festival of Trees at the Arts, Commerce and Visitors Centre. (Photos by Barbara Barbieri)

Force Science Institute details 10 limitations of body cameras for police

Before body cameras for police officers became the national discussion, the Bluffton Police and Wells County Sheriff's departments have already considered issuing the equipment. For more information, pick up the Monday, Dec. 8, News-Banner.

Here is a report distributed to local law enforcement officials about possible limitations of the body cameras.

10 limitations of body cams you need to know for your protection
A special report from the Force Science Institute

The idea is building that once every cop is equipped with a body camera, the controversy will be taken out of police shootings and other uses of force because "what really happened" will be captured on video for all to see.

Well, to borrow the title from an old Gershwin tune, "It Ain't Necessarily So."

There's no doubt that body cameras--like dash cams, cell phone cams, and surveillance cams--can provide a unique perspective on police encounters and, in most cases, are likely to help officers. But like those other devices, a camera mounted on your uniform or on your head has limitations that need to be understood and considered when evaluating the images they record.

"Rushing to condemn an officer for inappropriate behavior based solely on body-camera evidence can be a dicey proposition," cautions Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute. "Certainly, a camera can provide more information about what happened on the street. But it can't necessarily provide all the information needed to make a fair and impartial final judgment. There still may be influential human factors involved, apart from what the camera sees."

In a recent conversation with Force Science News, Lewinski enumerated 10 limitations that are important to keep in mind regarding body-camera evidence (and, for the most part, recordings from other cameras as well) if you are an investigator, a police attorney, a force reviewer, or an involved officer. This information may also be helpful in efforts to educate your community.

1. A camera doesn't follow your eyes or see as they see.
At the current level of development, a body camera is not an eye-tracker like FSI has used in some of its studies of officer attention. That complex apparatus can follow the movement of your eyes and superimpose on video small red circles that mark precisely where you are looking from one microsecond to the next.

"A body camera photographs a broad scene but it can't document where within that scene you are looking at any given instant," Lewinski says. "If you glance away from where the camera is concentrating, you may not see action within the camera frame that appears to be occurring 'right before your eyes.'

"Likewise, the camera can't acknowledge physiological and psychological phenomena that you may experience under high stress. As a survival mechanism, your brain may suppress some incoming visual images that seem unimportant in a life-threatening situation so you can completely focus very narrowly on the threat. You won't be aware of what your brain is screening out.

"Your brain may also play visual tricks on you that the camera can't match. If a suspect is driving a vehicle toward you, for example, it will seem to be closer, larger, and faster than it really is because of a phenomenon called 'looming.' Camera footage may not convey the same sense of threat that you experienced.

"In short, there can be a huge disconnect between your field of view and your visual perception and the camera's. Later, someone reviewing what's caught on camera and judging your actions could have a profoundly different sense of what happened than you had at the time it was occurring."

2. Some important danger cues can't be recorded.
"Tactile cues that are often important to officers in deciding to use force are difficult for cameras to capture," Lewinski says. "Resistive tension is a prime example.

"You can usually tell when you touch a suspect whether he or she is going to resist. You may quickly apply force as a preemptive measure, but on camera it may look like you made an unprovoked attack, because the sensory cue you felt doesn't record visually."

And, of course, the camera can't record the history and experience you bring to an encounter. "Suspect behavior that may appear innocuous on film to a naive civilian can convey the risk of mortal danger to you as a streetwise officer," Lewinski says. "For instance, an assaultive subject who brings his hands up may look to a civilian like he's surrendering, but to you, based on past experience, that can be a very intimidating and combative movement, signaling his preparation for a fighting attack. The camera just captures the action, not your interpretation."

3. Camera speed differs from the speed of life.
Because body cameras record at much higher speeds than typical convenience store or correctional facility security cameras, it's less likely that important details will be lost in the millisecond gaps between frames, as sometimes happens with those cruder devices.

"But it's still theoretically possible that something as brief as a muzzle flash or the glint of a knife blade that may become a factor in a use-of-force case could still fail to be recorded," Lewinski says.

Of greater consequence, he believes, is the body camera's depiction of action and reaction times.

"Because of the reactionary curve, an officer can be half a second or more behind the action as it unfolds on the screen," Lewinski explains. "Whether he's shooting or stopping shooting, his recognition, decision-making, and physical activation all take time--but obviously can't be shown on camera.

"People who don't understand this reactionary process won't factor it in when viewing the footage. They'll think the officer is keeping pace with the speed of the action as the camera records it. So without knowledgeable input, they aren't likely to understand how an officer can unintentionally end up placing rounds in a suspect's back or firing additional shots after a threat has ended."

4. A camera may see better than you do in low light.
"The high-tech imaging of body cameras allows them to record with clarity in many low-light settings," Lewinski says. "When footage is screened later, it may actually be possible to see elements of the scene in sharper detail than you could at the time the camera was activated.

"If you are receiving less visual information than the camera is recording under time-pressured circumstances, you are going to be more dependent on context and movement in assessing and reacting to potential threats. In dim light, a suspect's posturing will likely mean more to you immediately than some object he's holding. When footage is reviewed later, it may be evident that the object in his hand was a cell phone, say, rather than a gun. If you're expected to have seen that as clearly as the camera did, your reaction might seem highly inappropriate."

On the other hand, he notes, cameras do not always deal well with lighting transitions. "Going suddenly from bright to dim light or vice versa, a camera may briefly blank out images altogether," he says.

5. Your body may block the view.
"How much of a scene a camera captures is highly dependent on where it's positioned and where the action takes place," Lewinski notes. "Depending on location and angle, a picture may be blocked by your own body parts, from your nose to your hands.

"If you're firing a gun or a Taser, for example, a camera on your chest may not record much more than your extended arms and hands. Or just blading your stance may obscure the camera's view. Critical moments within a scenario that you can see may be missed entirely by your body cam because of these dynamics, ultimately masking what a reviewer may need to see to make a fair judgment."

6. A camera only records in 2-D.
Because cameras don't record depth of field--the third dimension that's perceived by the human eye--accurately judging distances on their footage can be difficult.

"Depending on the lens involved, cameras may compress distances between objects or make them appear closer than they really are," Lewinski says. "Without a proper sense of distance, a reviewer may misinterpret the level of threat an officer was facing."

In the Force Science Certification Course, he critiques several camera images in which distance distortion became problematic. In one, an officer's use of force seemed inappropriate because the suspect appears to be too far away to pose an immediate threat. In another, an officer appears to strike a suspect's head with a flashlight when, in fact, the blow was directed at a hand and never touched the head.

"There are technical means for determining distances on 2-D recordings," Lewinski says, "but these are not commonly known or accessed by most investigators."

7. The absence of sophisticated time-stamping may prove critical.
The time-stamping that is automatically imposed on camera footage is a gross number, generally measuring the action minute by minute. "In some high-profile, controversial shooting cases that is not sophisticated enough," Lewinski says. "To fully analyze and explain an officer's perceptions, reaction time, judgment, and decision-making it may be critical to break the action down to units of one-hundredths of a second or even less.

"There are post-production computer programs that can electronically encode footage to those specifications, and the Force Science Institute strongly recommends that these be employed. When reviewers see precisely how quickly suspects can move and how fast the various elements of a use-of-force event unfold, it can radically change their perception of what happened and the pressure involved officers were under to act."

8. One camera may not be enough.
"The more cameras there are recording a force event, the more opportunities there are likely to be to clarify uncertainties," Lewinski says. "The angle, the ambient lighting, and other elements will almost certainly vary from one officer's perspective to another's, and syncing the footage up will provide broader information for understanding the dynamics of what happened. What looks like an egregious action from one angle may seem perfectly justified from another.

"Think of the analysis of plays in a football game. In resolving close calls, referees want to view the action from as many cameras as possible to fully understand what they're seeing. Ideally, officers deserve the same consideration. The problem is that many times there is only one camera involved, compared to a dozen that may be consulted in a sporting event, and in that case the limitations must be kept even firmer in mind.

9. A camera encourages second-guessing.
"According to the U. S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor, an officer's decisions in tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situations are not to be judged with the '20/20 vision of hindsight,' " Lewinski notes. "But in the real-world aftermath of a shooting, camera footage provides an almost irresistible temptation for reviewers to play the coulda-shoulda game.

"Under calm and comfortable conditions, they can infinitely replay the action, scrutinize it for hard-to-see detail, slow it down, freeze it. The officer had to assess what he was experiencing while it was happening and under the stress of his life potentially being on the line. That disparity can lead to far different conclusions.

"As part of the incident investigation, we recommend that an officer be permitted to see what his body camera and other cameras recorded. He should be cautioned, however, to regard the footage only as informational. He should not allow it to supplant his first-hand memory of the incident. Justification for a shooting or other use of force will come from what an officer reasonably perceived, not necessarily from what a camera saw."

10. A camera can never replace a thorough investigation.
When officers oppose wearing cameras, civilians sometimes assume they fear "transparency." But more often, Lewinski believes, they are concerned that camera recordings will be given undue, if not exclusive, weight in judging their actions.

"A camera's recording should never be regarded solely as the Truth about a controversial incident," Lewinski declares. "It needs to be weighed and tested against witness testimony, forensics, the involved officer's statement, and other elements of a fair, thorough, and impartial investigation that takes human factors into consideration.

"This is in no way intended to belittle the merits of body cameras. Early testing has shown that they tend to reduce the frequency of force encounters as well as complaints against officers.

"But a well-known police defense attorney is not far wrong when he calls cameras 'the best evidence and the worst evidence.' The limitations of body cams and others need to be fully understood and evaluated to maximize their effectiveness and to assure that they are not regarded as infallible 'magic bullets' by people who do not fully grasp the realities of force dynamics."

Runyon to seek re-election

Bluffton Clerk-Treasurer Tamara Runyon announced late last week her intentions to seek re-election in the municipal election in 2015.

Here is her announcement in full:

I would like to publicly announce that I will be seeking a third term as Clerk Treasurer.   In 2014, I became the first ever Bluffton Clerk Treasurer to receive my Certified Public Finance Administrator certification from the Association of Public Treasurers of the United States and Canada.  There are only a few Clerk Treasurer’s in the State of Indiana with this certification.  In 2013, I served as State President for IMPACT, the State Human Resource League.  I have represented third class cities as an executive member for the Indiana League of Municipal Clerk Treasurer’s for 6 years, and in June 2014, I was elected to serve as Secretary/Treasurer for the League.  Being in these associations and serving on these committees allows me to stay on top of changes being made at the state and national levels that have an impact on this City.

The position of Clerk Treasurer is an elected office along with the Mayor and Common Council and it answers to the taxpayers and State Board of Accounts.  This preserves the check and balance system necessary to our system of government.  The duties of the Clerk Treasurer are defined by State Statute, the directives of the municipal governing body with the law and the individual skills of the office holder.  No other elected municipal duties are as specifically defined by law as the duties of the Clerk Treasurer.   The Clerk Treasurer does not set policy; they just enforce the policies set by the Council, Board of Works, and both State and Federal Legislatures.  

As your Clerk Treasurer, I serve as clerk of the Board of Works and Council and prepare the minutes.  I type ordinances and resolutions, do research, safeguard and prepare records, help prepare bids/ads, legal notices, financial reports, and job openings.  I administer funds, budget preparation, annual reports for the yearly State audit, transfer funds, bank reconcilements, and prepare claims.  The Clerk Treasurer’s office also handles receipts, deposits, checks, fixed assets, permits, prepare payroll for all city and utility employees, prepare taxes, 1099’s, w2’s, verification of employment, employee service records, human resource, job descriptions, pension plans, and work closely with department heads.  The Clerk Treasurer’s office handles health insurance and all human resource functions as well as organizing the federal mandated drug testing.  The Clerk Treasurer must be familiar with laws and regulations pertaining to cities and towns which sometimes differ from private and business procedures.  In 2009 the budget for the Clerk Treasurer’s office was $116,386 and the 2015 budget is $116,352, this includes two years with raises.  We are able to run and operate the office on this low budget saving the taxpayers money through streamlining processes and new software technologies. 

I have been a citizen of Bluffton for most of my life.  This is the city I chose to raise my children in, and to live and work in.  I have been married to my husband Pat Runyon for 36 years and we have two daughters, Dr. Karena (Jason) Schroeder of Fort Wayne and Audrey (Nick) McAbee of Yorktown, Virginia and five grandsons.  I am a 1977 graduate of Bluffton High School and attended IPFW for accounting.   I have worked for the City of Bluffton for over 37 years, 24 years as a Deputy Clerk Treasurer and 7 as Clerk Treasurer and would be honored to continue to serve the citizens of Bluffton as your Clerk Treasurer.

N-B Video: Hope Lights a Tree reading of names

Listen to the names being read during Saturday's annual Hope Lights a Tree event at Angel of Hope Park. Learn more in the Monday, Dec. 8, News-Banner. (Video by Jessica Williams)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

N-B Numbers: Wells County Council approves end-of-year, interdepartmental transfers of funds

The Wells County Council approved a host of interdepartmental transfers of funds at its last regular meeting of the year. To balance the books closer to the end of the year, a special meeting was scheduled for Dec. 23 as well.

Here were the transfers the council approved:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

N-B Photos: New fire engine arrives in Bluffton

The Bluffton Fire Department's new Engine 103 arrived at the station Monday, and firefighters gave it its first wash – after all, it was driven here from the Rosenbauer facility in Sioux Falls, S.D.

"This truck will be the first engine responding to city and county runs," Bluffton Fire Chief Chris Broderick reported in a public social media post. "The truck will be in service after equipment is installed and training on it is completed." (Photos by Jessica Williams)