Police Working Out Body Camera Kinks Early
In Spokane, 17 police officers are donning body cameras, as a trial run before the whole department starts to wear them next year. Officers have found the small, square cameras have a lot of quirks, both technically and ethically.
Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub will be the first to say body cameras are a good idea, primarily because he says it will encourage better behavior from both officers and the public. Officers legally must announce they are recording when they interact with citizens. But when Straub releases body camera policies and outfits all officers in January, he says deciding when to turn them on will be difficult.
Straub: “Everything is not just the police that are being recorded, it’s you. If I’m talking to you, I’m recording him, I’m recording this woman over here, all at the same time. Is that appropriate to put all of that material out there for public consumption.”
Straub says anything recorded will have to be made available for public records requests. He posed rhetorical questions to a room of reporters, like what should an officer do if in a private home, and one resident wants the camera on, but one requests it be turned off? What about if a citizen is having a mental health crisis?
Police took reporters through a virtual simulation, which they are also doing with community groups and city staffers. This made other possible problems obvious. In one simulation, a suspect has a gun hanging out of his pocket and officers shoot him as he grabs it. But on body camera footage, the suspect’s gun is not visible.
The Spokane Police Department will present the body cameras at community meetings throughout this fall, in part to answer questions, and to show that even when used correctly the cameras aren’t perfect.
Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio