The Tacoma Police Department is looking for body camera vendors for a 30- to 60-day trial run to take place in the next few months.
The city published a request for information last week seeking body-worn audiovisual cameras with local data storage and docking stations. Lt. Bart Hayes said the cameras will be used at the department’s training center, in part to avoid having to wade into public disclosure issues during what will be a trial phase.
“We’re going to run the cameras through a bunch of different scenarios, like shooting and things like that, at our training range, our firing range,” said Hayes, who is the project manager for the department’s body camera program. “We expect we’ll have cameras there for officers to try, and they’ll try different brands of cameras … and then review the video and comment on how they liked it.”
At the end of the trial, the cameras will be given back to the vendors.
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Members of the department, as well as the Citizens Police Advisory Committee, are working through policies and procedures — and the associated costs — for a body camera program.
It’s a complicated endeavor, with privacy, cost and procedural concerns, but some progress has been made: The department has struck an agreement to use the city’s computer servers to store the video, which will cost an estimated $4,000 to $8,000 a year, Hayes said. That’s a steal, Hayes told the advisory committee at a recent meeting: Some agencies are paying millions of dollars per year for storage.
The department is planning to apply for a Department of Justice grant later this year that would pay for the cameras, which could cost from $700,000 to $2.2 million, Hayes said.
The city has to budget for manpower. Hayes said that about a half dozen new staff members would be needed to handle 200 to 400 hours of video that members of the department would produce each day.
We have to look at how many videos we have to redact, how many people are going to request the videos we have to release to the general public, what laws are governing people’s privacy ... videos are very labor-intensive to redact and it’s not cheap.
Tacoma Police Lt. Bart Hayes, project manager for body camera program
The overall cost of the program is unknown.
“It’s really hard to do a guesstimate … we have to look at how many videos we have to redact, how many people are going to request the videos we have to release to the general public, what laws are governing people’s privacy … videos are very labor-intensive to redact and it’s not cheap,” Hayes said.
At the same time, the department and the local advisory committee are waiting on recommendations of a state task force on body-worn cameras to help guide Tacoma’s policies.
It’s been difficult for that group to meet because of the ongoing legislative session, said Chris Tracy, a member of the task force and president of Local 6, the union representing rank-and-file officers of the Tacoma Police Department. Tracy said privacy and public disclosure have been among the primary concerns for the group.
“There’s a lot of discussion about just how invasive body cameras can be to privacy, and I know there is a lot of work going on to try to understand ... whether body cameras are workable technology, given the enhanced rights to privacy under the state constitution and under the state’s privacy act,” Tracy said.
“And on the flip side, trying to understand what are the imposed costs going to be on local jurisdictions? ... There’s always going to be that tension between trying to keep government as open and transparent and allow watchdogs like the media to have access to that, and now overwhelming local government’s ability to stay in business because those costs can be so exorbitant.”
As leader of the union, Tracy said, he has concerns that resources should first be used to restore the department’s number of officers closer to where they were pre-recession.
“For me, that’s where the priority needs to be for the city is getting back to ... restore the number of officers ,so we have the men and women to go out and address those crime increases before we’re talking about technology like body cameras,” Tracy said.