Spokane police will soon have brand-new body cameras that can record high-definition video.
Most of the department’s 220 cameras have only been on the streets since May 2015 but the company that makes the cameras, Taser International, is switching to a new design with longer battery life and more recording options.
Spokane will be able to swap its older cameras at no cost, said Maj. Justin Lundgren, who oversees the body camera program. But the city could pay more for video storage if the higher-quality recordings take up more space.
The city signed a contract with Taser in September 2013 for 220 of the company’s Axon body cameras, as well as three years of storage on the company’s cloud-based evidence storage website, Evidence.com. The body camera hardware and Evidence.com subscription cost about $555,000 in the initial contract. Video storage makes up about half that cost, the contract shows.
Taser was designated a sole-source provider, meaning the city did not take bids from competing companies.
Currently, Spokane police can use up to 40 terabytes of video storage on Evidence.com and have 13.3 terabytes of video being stored, Lundgren said. Officers are generating about 0.3 terabytes of new video per week.
Some of that video will be deleted once the department finalizes a policy on camera use and video retention, Lundgren said.
Lower resolution video on Taser’s existing camera takes up about one or two gigabytes per hour of footage, Taser said. Full resolution video on the new camera, the Axon 2, would take up significantly more space – about 5.7 gigabytes per hour of footage. But the department would have the option to switch between resolutions.
“We’re talking a lot more data that will have to be recorded,” Lundgren said.
The department is testing one of the newer cameras and hasn’t determined how much storage space they need for the footage. Lundgren said the switch will improve video quality at night and make it easier for police to review evidence.
“The higher resolution adds a lot of value to the image going back, especially when you’re looking at something low light or when there’s something you’re trying to figure out for evidence purposes,” he said.
The new cameras also have a wider field of view and eight times the video storage.
The cameras are Wi-Fi enabled, which allows them to interface with Taser’s electric weapons, Taser spokesman Steve Tuttle said. The newest weapons, for example, can be set to automatically activate any nearby body cameras when the safety is turned off, he said.
Liberty Lake police have been using Taser cameras since 2013 and will also switch to the newer model, Chief Brian Asmus said. The city will sign a new five-year contract with Taser at the end of the year which costs about $5,000 per year for 10 new cameras and video storage.
Asmus said his officers have been testing one camera and had some challenges mounting it on uniforms because it’s heavier.
“That’s the downside in my opinion,” he said. But the video quality is better, he said.
The new cameras will be in use starting next April in Liberty Lake.
Airway Heights police also use body cameras, but theirs are made by a different manufacturer.
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