Grand County law enforcement agencies eye body cams for officers
Over the past year a number of high profile incidents involving use of force by police officers have sparked protests in several American cities and started a nationwide discussion about the use of body cameras by officers.
Several of the law enforcement agencies in Grand County are in the process of selecting and purchasing body cameras for officers. The Grand County Sheriff’s Department (GCSD) reviewed several different models of cameras before choosing a body cam produced by the Taser Corporation.
Lt. Dan Mayer, public information officer for the GCSD, explained the department has already budgeted for the purchase of the cameras but is involved in negotiations and discussions regarding ongoing costs associated with data storage and recovery for the videos recorded by the cameras. Because of the overall cost of the project and because the cost associated with purchasing and operating the cameras will be spread out over a multi-year period, the GCSD intends to bring the issue before the Grand County commissioners for approval.
“Once we started seeing ongoing maintenance fees and data recovery fees we decided we needed to get approval higher up,” said Mayer. “The county commissioners have been very supportive in this.”
The GCSD is looking at a cost of around $21,000 to purchase the cameras and approximately $3,000 for data storage and recovery fees over a five-year period.
“If it saves you from one false accusation, from one lawsuit,” said Mayer, “You cover the cost of it for the five years.”
Lt. Mayer pointed out that the GCSD recently acquired video cameras for their deputy patrol vehicles and the cameras were installed during the last several months. The cameras were donated, free of charge, to the GCSD from the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department who recently replaced their own dash cam system.
“They are still good,” Lt. Mayer reassured. “They provide a great view of both the road in front and in back.”
The GCSD plans to have the dash cams start recording within the next month.
Regarding who will be able to access the recorded footage, Lt. Mayer explained that most of the video recordings will be available either as discoverable evidence for trial purposes or through an open records request. He explained that the department has not yet determined a policy for general citizen requests for video from the cameras.
“We are looking at other departments, what they are doing and what is proper under the law. We have to follow guidelines for releasing evidence.”
Mayer also pointed out that deputies with the department will only be able to duplicate video from the database and that the deputies will not be able to delete or alter the recordings.
Granby Police Chief Bill Housley spoke positively about his department’s plans to purchase body cams.
“I think it is a smart thing to do. We will offer video and audio evidence that protects both the officer and the citizen,” said Housley.
Housley explained that the Granby Police Department (GPD) has already budgeted for the purchase of the cameras in 2015 and he hopes to have them in operation and recording by the end of this year.
“We have been testing models, trying to make the most informed decision,” Housley said. “We have tested a couple of models. There are a couple more I would like to test. Once we get that accomplished, we are ready to move forward.”
While GPD officials have not made a final decision about which camera they plan to purchase, Chief Housley said the cameras would cost approximately $900 apiece. He explained that future GPD body cameras would record at times when officers are in contact with the public. Housley said that while he has not yet written an official policy for the body cams, the video recorded by the cameras would be available through an open records request, “like any other report we have”.
The Winter Park/Fraser Police Department (WP/FPD) is also considering purchasing body cams for its officers though no final decision has been made.
“I want to make sure that if and when we get them they serve as a useful tool that not only enhances our desire to be transparent but also provides officers with a system that enhances their safety and the quality of investigations they do,” said Chief Glen Trainor.
Chief Trainor went on to explain that while body cams are being touted as a panacea to prevent police misconduct, he believes they have serious shortcomings.
“The camera only records what the camera sees. If an officer sees something out of his peripheral vision, but the camera is on his chest, it won’t record what is going on until the officer turns that direction.”
Trainor also highlighted his concerns regarding deployment of body cams and when the recordings should be started.
“Some departments mandate that the camera is on anytime the officer is on duty. Others leave it to the officer’s discretion. I lean towards the latter because I just don’t think it is appropriate to be video recording private moments in someone’s life like a death notification. We need to be transparent while at the same time protecting the privacy of our citizens.”
The WP/FPD has no funding for the purchase of the body cameras and no specific timeline regarding a decision to purchase them or not. Chief Trainor will be attending two different forums about body cams during the next month and hopes to become better educated on the subject.
“Law enforcement is now and always has been about relationships,” stated Chief Trainor. “If we do that part right we don’t have to worry about the trust issues other agencies are facing and which have nothing to do with how we interact with the wonderful people in Fraser and Winter Park.”
The Kremmling Police Department did not return phone calls regarding requests for information about officer body cameras within the department.
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