A four-month pilot program to outfit Spokane police officers with body cameras will formally come to an end this week, but little is expected to immediately change in the department’s day-to-day use of the cameras.
Officers who began wearing the cameras during the pilot will be able to continue wearing them on a volunteer basis going into 2015, said Tim Schwering, director of the department’s Office of Professional Oversight. Additional officers may also elect to begin wearing cameras.
Over the next several months, he said, police will review use of the cameras and work to develop estimates on the video storage capacity and staff time to respond to record requests that a full body camera program would require.
The department also will create a permanent policy governing camera use and will create a stakeholder commission to help with that process, Schwering said. He said the policy will be revised and updated to reflect any forthcoming changes in state law addressing video footage and public records.
Once the pilot program has been reviewed, Schwering said, cameras will be phased in for patrol officers gradually, with the goal of outfitting all patrol officers by the end of 2015.
The department does not plan to begin notifying subjects who appear in videos prior to releasing them as public records as several smaller Washington cities, including Pullman, have done. Advance notification has been endorsed by Timothy Clemans, the formerly anonymous man who has filed blanket records requests for police video footage with nearly every Washington police department using body cameras. He has said part of his goal is to raise public awareness about the privacy concerns the cameras pose.
Schwering said notifying all video subjects would be impractical because of the large number of videos generated by a city the size of Spokane, as well as the difficulty of identifying people who may appear in the background incidentally.
The body camera pilot, which began Sept. 1, initially included 17 officers, though several more elected to begin wearing the cameras during the pilot.
Sgt. Dan Waters, who has been wearing a body camera for about three weeks, said the citizens he’s interacted with haven’t behaved differently after being told they’re on camera.
“It’s almost like they gloss over it,” he said.
He plans to continue wearing the camera, and said he’s supportive of outfitting officers with body cameras because they can provide protection from unwarranted complaints.
Remembering to turn the camera on was sometimes a challenge, he said, because officers may enter an incident in progress quickly and forget to hit the button.
That issue was made clear in the November shooting of a domestic violence suspect by Officer Mike Roberge, who was wearing a body camera during the incident but did not have it turned on.
Police spokeswoman Monique Cotton said the department is conducting ongoing training on body cameras for officers and working to make sure turning them on becomes a reflexive action.
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