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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Police Department preparing to update body cameras, Tasers with new $2.8 million contract

A body camera that has been used by the Spokane Police Department is shown in this January 2016 photo. The Spokane City Council voted Monday, December 16, 2019, to upgrade its camera equipment. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The city will invest $2.8 million over the next five years on upgrades to body cameras and Tasers used by the Spokane Police Department.

Since fully implementing the body camera program for patrol officers in 2016, the police department has contracted with Axon Enterprises to provide digital storage for footage along with the physical body cameras. The Spokane City Council approved a new contract with Axon on Monday.

“Commissioned personnel working in a patrol function” are required to wear body cameras, as outlined in the SPD policy manual.

That includes anyone with the rank of sergeant or below who works in any patrol capacity, including neighborhood resource officers and anyone on a patrol team, said Spokane Police Sgt. Terry Preuninger. That also includes some officers in a plain-clothes function.

After an officer’s shift, videos are uploaded to an online system that can categorize them by date or case number, but cannot alter the videos themselves.

Unless a video is tagged for a specific crime as evidence or for an internal affairs investigation, it is deleted after a year. Video that is redacted for a public records request is kept for two years after completion of the request, then deleted.

The new contract includes the purchase of upgraded body cameras that are more difficult to accidentally turn off than the current model, said Spokane police Maj. Kevin King during a recent city council briefing.

“One of the upgrades to the body camera, which is pretty significant, is where that button is located,” King said. “They’re turned off or turned on accidentally, and so they’ve redesigned that button so that’s not going to happen.”

Axon has a trade-in program so the older body cameras will be exchanged for the new Axon Body 3 camera after SPD’s charging equipment is upgraded, King explained.

The new contract includes 275 assigned body cameras, which SPD pays for by user. An officer is assigned a body camera and an account with Axon, however the physical camera can be switched out with a backup for maintenance.

Tasers will also be upgraded to a new version in February or March, King said.

The new cameras have GPS tracking, which King called a “huge officer safety benefit.” They also have the capability to live-stream, King said.

GPS is only available when the camera is on, and while new cameras can live-stream video they cannot be turned on or off remotely, King explained.

“Through a mapping system, if somebody had their camera on, they’re out in one of these more remote areas, we’re able to actually pinpoint exactly where they’re at with that,” King said in an interview last week.

King acknowledged that while the new body cameras have these capabilities, how the features will be used by SPD depends on bargaining with the Spokane Police Guild and then putting that agreement into department policy.

“We’ll have to sit down with the unions and talk about that. Understandably they’re going to have privacy concerns,” King said.

The guild did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The new contract will cost $115,000 more each year than the prior contracts. Previously, SPD held multiple contracts with Axon for body cameras, storage and Tasers. The new contract combines what was previously covered under separate contracts.

It also bundles services like Taser cartridges, video storage, replacement parts and training.

Under this contract, the police department is able to upgrade both Tasers and body cameras once in the next five years as new technology is released, King said.

The data from Tasers and body cameras is encrypted through Axon, and both new versions include upgrades in security, according to Axon.

“We don’t have any concerns outside the reality of just what hackers are continually able to do, which is always surprising,” King said.