State lawmakers may have helped charter a path into how police departments can manage the use of body cameras, but the territory is still rough and full of possible unforeseen consequences.
That’s why Pasco’s decision to first use a test camera while it works out the details of its policy is a smart call.
The Pasco City Council recently gave the police department the go-ahead to launch a body-camera program, which will be the first in the Tri-Cities.
The use of the new technology by police officers is catching on around the country, and several bigger cities are trying to equip every officer as quickly as possible.
But we are relieved Pasco is taking a cautious approach. The department is planning to experiment with one camera, work out any troubling issues, and then pursue purchasing additional equipment.
One of the main concerns regarding the use of body cameras is how to manage, store and release the daily recordings. It is likely an additional person would have to be hired just to deal with public records requests from lawyers, citizens and the media.
Some guidance, fortunately, was given to this issue this past legislative session. Lawmakers approved House Bill 2362, which sets parameters over what kind of footage can be released from police recordings. It went into effect June 9.
This made it possible for Pasco officials to feel more confident going forward with their plans to adopt the new technology.
The law makes body-camera recordings available to the public, but limits broad requests for the footage and sets restrictions on what is presumed to be private under the state public records act.
This is to protect crime victims, for example, and the mentally ill from ending up on YouTube. It also should help prevent someone’s entire living room from going on public display.
In addition, the law requires that law enforcement agencies using video or sound recordings must have established policies, and the governing city must have an ordinance in place.
Too many people think body cameras are a simple solution when citizen accounts conflict with the police. But there are other issues at play that must be addressed.
Balancing privacy rights with police transparency is tricky, so Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger was wise to wait for state guidelines before starting a body-camera program in his own department.
Pasco already has in-car cameras that may capture audio from a microphone worn by the officer, but the video’s range is limited. The body-worn cameras will provide more coverage and will show an incident from the police officer’s perspective. This conceivably should help with police accountability and citizen complaints.
And while body cameras may be deemed worth it, they are not cheap. Each body camera costs between $500 and $1,000 and backup servers to store the video footage are likely to run $5,000 to $10,000.
The department has 76 sworn officers when fully staffed, so this is a big expense.
Pasco’s decision to go slow and careful before pushing into such an untested technological realm was the right way to go.