It was just another day on patrol recently for Liberty Lake police Officer Mike Bogenreif as he watched for speeders, checked fenced construction sites and offered to help a woman in a parking lot, with one exception: Attached to his chest was a small, pager-sized black box that recorded every traffic stop.
Liberty Lake’s six patrol officers spent the last month testing a body camera that makes a time- and date-stamped audio and visual recording every time an officer turns it on, which is accomplished by sliding down the front of the device to expose the lens. Police Chief Brian Asmus said he hopes to get permission from the City Council to buy a camera for every patrol officer, plus a spare.
“I think it’s good for accountability, officer safety and collection of evidence,” Asmus said. He believes body cameras will become standard. Right now the Airway Heights Police Department uses them and the city of Spokane is considering them. “I think it’s eventually going to be an expectation,” Asmus said. “I just wanted to be ahead of the curve.”
Asmus said he considered getting dashboard-mounted cameras in the patrol cars, but they are more expensive and have a limited field of view. The body cameras go wherever the officer goes and cost about $900 each. “I think we can afford that,” he said.
Each camera is self-contained. Video from the camera is downloaded to a computer at the end of each officer’s shift. The videos can’t be altered and are automatically deleted after 120 days unless they are tagged for archiving, Asmus said.
Washington state law requires that people be notified that they are being recorded, so officers have been telling people they are being recorded in between their greeting and the standard “Do you know why I pulled you over today?”
“We don’t have to ask for consent,” Asmus said. “We just have to notify them they’re being recorded.”
Bogenreif said wearing a camera doesn’t bother him. In his previous job as a Whitman County Sheriff’s Deputy he had a dashboard camera is his patrol car. Having a video record of a traffic stop is useful for driving-under-the- influence cases. He agrees that cameras will eventually become standard and officers “might as well get used to it.” The camera can also protect him if someone makes a false complaint against him, Bogenreif said. “I don’t see how it can hurt having it,” he said.
The people he pulls over also haven’t objected to it either, Bogenreif said. “They don’t seem to care.” During the testing phase there was no camera policy in place, so Bogenreif said he was activating the camera for every citizen contact, not just traffic stops. “Right now I’m just going to turn it on,” he said. “Otherwise, what’s the point of having it?”
During a recent morning, Bogenreif recorded several traffic stops. He only gave one speeding ticket and one ticket for driving with a suspended license. The other drivers got warnings. “If I think they’ll learn from a warning, I’ll give them a warning,” he said. If the person is honest about what they did and has a good driving record, he likely won’t give them a ticket. “I’m not big ticket writer,” he said.
The one speeding ticket he wrote went to a woman driving 41 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone. She had just gotten a speeding ticket two weeks earlier. “I don’t think my verbal warning was going to cure her,” he said.
Asmus said the camera test went well and the officers were accepting of it. There were questions asked about whether officers would be able to review their own recordings and whether they should be used when officers are providing backup for the Washington State Patrol, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office or the Spokane Valley Police Department. Asmus said he will be writing a new policy to govern the use of the cameras.
Asmus has reviewed the camera recordings to check for sound and picture quality, but said if the cameras are purchased the recordings will most often be downloaded without being reviewed. “It’s not going to be monitored every single day,” he said. “It’s not going to be reviewed unless there’s some type of issue.”