The Lafayette Police Department is testing out various types of officer-mounted body cameras, but despite overwhelming evidence and expert opinions about the benefits in terms of evidence collection, department higher-ups appear more skeptical than anything.
The department has tried out two different models and is about to undergo testing of a third, with a price range of between $400 and $600 depending on the make and model.
With the recent police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York — the latter having been video-captured by a bystander’s cell phone — body cams have become part of a national conversation surrounding the rise in use of force incidents involving police officers and citizens, notably unarmed black males.
Shortly after the grand juries in Ferguson and Staten Island declined to indict officers involved in Brown and Garner deaths, riots and protests erupted across the nation, and President Barack Obama responded with $263 million allocation for the purchase of body cams and additional training for departments nationwide. That equals about $10,000 for each of the nation’s nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies.
The day when all police officers in the U.S. are equipped with cams is coming. There’s no doubt.
But comments in Friday’s Advocate from Cpl. Paul Mouton, spokesman for the Lafayette PD, paint a different picture — one of skepticism toward the body cam technology.
But other issues may delay, or even nix, the project.
Mouton cited the Seattle Police Department, which was entering testing phases for a wearable camera program set to outfit 1,000 officers by 2016. That plan was halted after a resident filed a public records request for all the video recorded daily by officers.
“Those are the kinds of issues we’re gonna have to look at,” Mouton said.
Another consideration will be how and where to stow the mounting evidence.
Current policy for the department’s in-car camera system requires footage to be stored for 30,000 days — or a little more than 82 years — for homicides and rapes. OWI and narcotics arrests made during a traffic stop have to be stored for 10 years.
Lafayette Consolidated Government already reserves about 12 terabytes of space for the Police Department to store its recordings, and the department has already used up about 7 terabytes in compressed files, Chief Information Officer Kevin Samples said.
And that’s before the department starts storing video from a 50-camera neighborhood system set for installation by 2016.
“It’s going to be very expensive as far as trying to retain that information,” Mouton said.
Aside from funding, the issues cited by Mouton to both the Advocate and Advertiser — namely the example of the Seattle PD and public records, and questions surrounding a policy for governing the use of cams — have been addressed by both the U.S. Department of Justice and the ACLU. Both have issued a set of policy suggestions and guidelines, including how to handle requests from the public. (Read the ACLU's report here and the DOJ's here.)
And as far as funding goes, The IND spoke with City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux — the council’s liaison to the PD — who says that shouldn’t be a concern of the department.
“I’m in full support,” says Boudreaux. “I don’t think cost or any other reason should prevent our police department from obtaining the greatest amount of evidence possible. This is a live video that gives an accurate record of what took place.”
“But the bottom line is we can’t think this is a fix-all,” says Boudreaux, referencing the grand jury’s decision in Eric Garner’s death, which cleared the involved officer despite video evidence captured by an onlooker.
“We also need additional training on how to deal with confrontations and on cultural sensitivity,” continues Boudreaux.
“They don’t need to be concerned with funding. We’re talking about the preservation of life, and the most accurate accounting of what takes place,” Boudreaux says of the department’s concerns about funding. “We can’t minimize the significance of how important that is. I just can’t see the negative that comes from that. Bottom line: they need to let the budget issues be an issue of the council and the mayor’s office.”
For more on this issue, check out our November cover story, “The Case for Cams,” here.