SUNDAY, SEPT. 2, 2012

Editorial: Editorial: Police Guild shouldn’t use body cameras as bargaining chip

Another police force has adopted body cameras to help officers in the performance of their duties. This time it’s in Coeur d’Alene, where the police department announced on Wednesday that its patrol officers are now wearing the devices, which are about the size of a pager.

So far, there’s been no resistance to the change. Police Sgt. Christie Wood told The Spokesman-Review, “We’re excited about the opportunity. The officers like them a lot.”

Coeur d’Alene police Officer John Kelly told KXLY-TV, “My mindset is we don’t really know what’s going to happen when we get out of our car, I almost immediately start running the camera.”

What’s not to like if you’re an officer doing the job the right way?

The cameras assist in gathering evidence, improve the accuracy of reports, expose bogus citizen complaints and show the public that police officers have nothing to hide as they go about their duties.

Body cameras are also being used in Airway Heights, Post Falls and on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation. The Spokane Police Department has begun testing them. Mayor David Condon and the Spokane City Council want them.

But there might be a hold-up, because the City Council was informed in June that the Police Guild sees the implementation as an alteration of working conditions and thus subject to bargaining. The city of Seattle is facing the same potential roadblock to sensible change.

So, in addition to the actual cost of the cameras, which is in the neighborhood of $800 to $900 apiece, the city of Spokane may have to increase the pay or benefits of the officers who would be using them. At a time when the city is looking for budget cuts, this would be unacceptable.

It’s fine for the police force to seek answers to policy questions surrounding the implementation of body cameras. When can they be switched off? What about confidential informants? What about rape victims? When does the footage become available to the public? These are all legitimate questions.

But seeking compensation for using new equipment is not legitimate. New tools are routinely introduced. New uniforms, weapons, computers, cars and other items are provided to improve the performance of the department. Each one of them should not be used as a bargaining chip. The same is true of body cameras.

Public safety unions are granted considerable leeway because they cannot strike. However, they’ve leveraged this to such ridiculous levels that public trust has been eroded. About the only explanation offered to date for why they would want to negotiate the use of body cameras is because they can. The benefit to the public is left unsaid, because there isn’t one.

Spokane’s police force has suffered numerous public relations shiners, many self-inflicted. It would be a terrific gesture if the union would drop any attempt to be compensated for a tool that benefits them. A sorely needed goodwill boost should be reward enough.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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