Garden City commissioners and city staff were given a presentation last week during a pre-meeting on the Garden City Police Department’s recently implemented body cameras, which detailed how the cameras will be used and what the benefits and limitations of body camera systems are.
According to Garden City Police Chief Mike Utz, the GCPD began using body cameras on July 1, and officers have been trained and are now out using them while on duty.
“… We started looking at the body camera technology in approximately 2015 and tested several companies. The problem we found is that some companies had body cameras, some had car cameras, and nothing integrated, except for a few companies,” he said. “But it has always been a concern, and the public’s demand for the technology has come to the forefront and it’s time to move forward with the systems.”
In December, the City Commission approved a purchase agreement with Motorola for $446,942 over five years without interest that includes 64 body cameras and accessories, 58 in-car camera systems, various training sessions and data storage.
“We have 64 sworn-in officers, so that gives one camera to each officer,” said Garden City Police Capt. Reagle, adding that there are not 58 patrol vehicles, so the in-car cameras that are not used will be put in prisoner transport vehicles.
The GCPD set up a scenario with some of its officers during the July 3 meeting, with one depicting a citizen speaking at a City Commission meeting about not being allowed to enter parks after hours. During the scenario, the officer stepped up to the podium and began speaking. Another officer portrayed a person from the audience who in the scenario comes from the back of the room and begins shooting at the speaker at the podium.
Commissioner Troy Unruh was staged as a police officer during the scenario, wearing one of the body cameras. In the scenario, Unruh shoots the perpetrator who previously shot at the citizen.
The body camera footage from the scenario during the pre-meeting was later viewed to show what Unruh could see while wearing it.
Along with reviewing the footage, example videos from another police department were viewed to show that body cameras and in-car cameras get only one perspective of a situation and that it may take multiple cameras to get the full story.
According to Reagle, body cameras are “not the save the world type of devices that everyone thinks.”
“There are some limitations to what they can and cannot do,” he said, noting that there’s more to what happens in a situation than what is captured on video.
Reagle said one of the limitations is where the camera is vs. where the officer’s eyes are, meaning if the officers look to their side while their camera is pointing another direction, the camera will not pick up what the officer is looking at.
“The camera does not see in the speed we see. The camera is 35 frames per second,” Reagle said. “We can see at a much higher rate… The camera may miss some things that you see in real life.”
In low light situations, the body camera also may pick up something that the naked eye couldn’t, Reagle said.
“One video does not tell you the whole story,” Utz said. “Our goal is to let folks know that it may not all be caught on video. Sometimes we have to rely on victims, witnesses and the officer’s testimony.”
Utz said the No. 1 benefit of body cameras is the safety of the officers and the public.
“Number two is evidence collection,” he said.
According to GCPD staff, the department has worked with its command staff, Finney County Attorney's Office staff, city prosecutor staff and line officers from the GCPD on regulation development for the body cameras.
“We’ve worked together using a variety of resources, whether it was existing policies that other departments have and best practices from other entities to put a policy together. It’s been written and revised over and over to the point where we have here,” Reagle said, noting that modifications will likely be made in the next six months to two years based on experiences of using them.
Because of battery life and storage space, body cameras will not be running 24/7 when an officer is on duty, Reagle said, though there are a “variety of situations” in the GCPD’s policy when an officer should have a camera running.
“During a traffic stop, officers are supposed to turn on their cameras per policy," Reagle said. “… When officers have contact with people, there are going to be circumstances where we ask them to turn their camera off, but again you never know what’s going to happen in front of you.”
Both Reagle and Utz said there could be instances when an officer could potentially forget to turn on their camera, depending on the situation or circumstances.
“Bottom line is officer safety first,” Utz said. “It’s paramount that the officer protects himself and others first before we worry about the body camera.”
Reagle said the department also has a system where they are able to watch the videos and share them with the court system. Redaction of faces or sound can be done to the footage, he said, noting that footage where juvenile can be seen or if a person is physically exposing themselves are examples of when footage could be redacted.
Body camera footage also has sound, Reagle said.
Reagle said the administrative staff of the GCPD will manage the camera storage systems and categorize videos and send footage to the county attorney or city prosecutor's offices as needed.
While the in-car cameras have unlimited storage, the body cameras have a limited storage.
“With the body cameras, we’re paying for a certain level of storage, so we’re getting 250 GB per device for the first year, and then 50 GB per device for each subsequent year in the contract,” Reagle said.
To date, the GCPD is unsure of how much storage will be used for the body cameras as footage has to be kept for so long per state statute, and footage will be kept and used for cases. Because of this, the GCPD has asked for an additional $25,000 for its 2019 budget in case more or unlimited storage needs to be purchased
Reagle said storage space likely will be evaluated six months after the implementation in order to determine if additional storage space is needed.
Contact Josh Harbour at email@example.com.