Kent Police officers will start to wear body cameras in October as part of a pilot program to determine whether to outfit the entire force.
The initial plan is for 10 body cameras and two in-vehicle cameras that will record video of interactions between officers and the people they encounter on calls.
“We are looking at this technology – an initiative supported by the mayor (Dana Ralph), and I strongly support – getting body cameras for the police,” Chief Rafael Padilla said at a City Council Public Safety meeting earlier this summer. “It’s an opportunity to improve officer safety and help with accountability of incidents, including use of force.”
“It will be a tool to be transparent and open with what’s going on with our engagement with the community,” said Padilla, adding that studies by departments with body cameras show a reduction in complaints about officers and assaults against officers.
Ralph announced in a press release during her mayoral campaign last year that she would propose in 2018 to outfit officers with body cameras. Kent has about 150 patrol officers.
“I believe implementing body cameras on our patrol officers will continue to improve community policing, community trust and equally, it is fantastic protection for our police officers,” she said in the release. “This eliminates a he- said, she-said argument because everything is documented on video. We no longer have to make assumptions in investigations because we will have facts available immediately.”
Arizona-based Axon, which also has an office in Seattle, will provide the cameras and equipment to Kent for free during the pilot program. The company contracts with 38 police forces in major cities to provide body cameras, the largest purchase being 7,545 cameras by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to the Axon website.
Padilla told the council at its Aug. 21 meeting that the pilot program would run from three to six months.
“We hope to come back and make recommendations about implementation,” he said.
Kent Police have researched the use of body cameras.
“We have done site visits with Seattle PD and Tukwila PD as well as sought information from Spokane PD,” Padilla said in an email. “We have worked with the vendor to identify best practices and lessons learned from other agencies across the country. Lastly, members of our leadership team have attended training on how to implement BWCs (body-worn cameras) by subject matter experts.”
Padilla said staff is developing a policy for the cameras.
“We are working with the police union – Kent Police Officers Association – because there are labor contract issues that require negotiations,” he said. “We are working with the vendor, Axon, to identify best practices. We are reviewing policies from other agencies who have had body cams for a while. We will be seeking input from the mayor, city council and our legal staff. And last, but certainly not least, the pilot will solidify policy needs as we review the data.”
Tukwila Police ran a pilot program in 2016 before outfitting all officers with the cameras. The Tukwila City Council last year approved a $550,000, five-year contract with Axon to provide 50 body cameras, 29 dash cameras and 50 Taser guns to its police force.
Ken Thomas, the former Kent Police chief and now the Des Moines Police chief, told the Kent City Council’s Public Safety Committee last year it would cost an estimated $250,000 to start up a body camera program and about $110,000 per year in ongoing costs. He estimated it would cost another $370,000 per year to hire staff to redact information that cannot be disclosed to the public.