A Tukwila Police officer wears a body camera during a pilot program last year. Kent Police remain in the discussion stage about whether to purchase body cameras. File Photo/Tukwila Reporter

Kent Police consider wearing body cameras

The possibility of Kent Police officers wearing body cameras remains in the discussion stage.

Police Chief Ken Thomas updated the City Council’s Public Safety Committee in early August about the department’s research into body cameras and dash cameras, which go inside vehicles.

”I suspect we will get there one day,” Thomas said about officers wearing cameras. “The cost is going down, and it’s getting more refined about what we can and can’t do. But we’re not there yet.”

Police staff spent the last six months or so looking into adding body cameras for officers.

A Kent Police committee recently visited the Seattle Police Department to see how cameras work.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued an executive order in July for all Seattle officers to be outfitted with body cameras in the coming months.

“There are policy issues, when to turn on the cameras and when not to, such as do you turn them on when you visit a house,” said Thomas, who added public disclosure issues also need to be addressed.

Mari Love, of Kent, spoke during the public comment period at the Aug. 15 council meeting in favor of body and dash cameras.

”I’m greatly concerned about the police shootings in the black community,” Love said. “I am a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. I want more accountability. I don’t know why we don’t have police cams or vehicle cams. I don’t understand why there isn’t more accountability.”

Friends and relatives of Giovonn Joseph-McDade, 20, of Auburn, who was shot and killed June 24 by a Kent Police officer after Joseph-McDade reportedly tried to run over the officer, demanded in July at a press conference outside of the Kent Police Station that patrol vehicles be equipped with dash cameras.

Thomas told the Public Safety Committee on Aug. 8 that costs remain a challenge.

“We have learned it will cost us about $250,000 to start up and about $110,000 a year in ongoing costs,” he said about body cameras.

The chief added that cost doesn’t include personnel that will need to be hired to redact information that cannot be disclosed to the public.

“It will cost another $370,000 per year for personnel,” Thomas said. “These are rough numbers. We are still looking into it.”

The research by police staff led to mixed results.

“My thought is to let more issues work themselves out and be prepared to move forward,” Thomas said. “But it is a lot of money to invest.”

Dash cameras aren’t as helpful because the cameras do not go outside of the police vehicle with the officer, the chief said.

“When we get to the point to go to cameras, I would recommend body cameras to in-car cameras,” he said.

While Kent decides what to do, its neighboring city to the north has taken action.

The Tukwila City Council in July approved a $550,000, five-year contract with Axon (with offices in Arizona and Seattle), to provide 50 body cameras, 29 dash cameras and 50 Taser guns to its police force.

The council will use existing funds, including money obtained from drug seizures by police, to pay for the equipment.

As of spring 2017, 37 major city law enforcement agencies have purchased police body cameras from Axon, according to the company’s website.

The list of cities includes Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlanta, San Jose and others.

Tukwila Police had five officers wear body cameras during a pilot program from May to July last year.

Earlier this year, five officers wore body cameras and five vehicles had dash cameras during another pilot program.

“The body cams we are going to be rolling out to all officers very soon,” said Tukwila Police spokesman Victor Masters in an email. “We are also installing Axon dash camera’s in all of our new vehicles as well, which are being phased in. We are the only department in the state fully outfitting our officers with both body cams and dash cams.”

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