The Liberty Lake Police Department union voted unanimously last week to approve a contract that requires the use of body cameras.
The three-year contract also includes annual raises ranging from 2 to 3 percent. The City Council unanimously approved it Tuesday.
Six members of the 10-man department have been wearing body cameras voluntarily for several months. Police Chief Brian Asmus said there were some concerns raised by officers about privacy issues. “The concerns had to do mostly with how to solve public disclosure requests,” he said. “It was more questions than anything since it’s new.”
Officers are to record any contact they have with the public, including traffic stops, and must notify people that they are being recorded. Videos cannot be edited or deleted by officers, but can be reviewed while writing reports. The recordings are automatically deleted after 60 days unless they are tagged for retention. Asmus said the city’s policy states that the videos can be released in response to a public records request, but not until the cases they are part of have been closed.
The cameras have already proven useful.
A few weeks ago a woman posted a message on the department’s Facebook page alleging that an officer had beaten her boyfriend and hit him in the head. Asmus reviewed the body camera footage of the officer’s contact with the man and found nothing of the sort. “It fully exonerated the officer,” he said.
Asmus said he provided a copy of the video to the man and the Facebook post quickly disappeared. “We haven’t heard from him since,” he said.
Last week, Asmus received a complaint from a woman who said an officer was overly sarcastic with her. Asmus reviewed the video and saw a short, friendly contact about a parking issue that even included the officer petting the woman’s dog. “The officer was very professional,” Asmus said.
Asmus said he is pleased that he can now settle complaints in just a few minutes rather than conducting a lengthy investigation and doing interviews. “It’s so easy,” he said.
The recordings can also be used as evidence in court. A body camera captured a confession in a recent voyeurism case, Asmus said.
“The benefits are just amazing,” he said.