Law enforcement officers in Lawrence don’t use body-mounted cameras

If you’re in Lawrence, don’t expect to have your every interaction with a law enforcement officer recorded on video.

The Lawrence Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Kansas Highway Patrol do not use body-mounted cameras. Many people around the country have been calling for the increased adoption of the devices in the wake of the recent shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, which was not recorded, has led to continued protests and rioting in the St. Louis suburb.

Law enforcement officials across the country are increasingly using body-mounted cameras to help prosecute cases and protect against false complaints. They are used in Kansas by such police departments as Topeka, Wichita, Lenexa, Parsons and Merriam, as well as sheriff’s deputies in Johnson County.

The three agencies that serve Lawrence all use patrol car cameras and wireless microphones that work even when officers aren’t in the immediate vicinity of their vehicles. But that doesn’t mean body-mounted cameras won’t be a possibility in the future.

“It could very well be a matter of time before that type of technology is ubiquitous,” said Lt. Steve Lewis, spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “For years, there was no video at all.”

The Lawrence Police Department just installed new in-car video cameras last year at a significant cost, after the old system kept failing.

“Our primary interest was to get a stable and reliable system for our vehicles,” said Sgt. Trent McKinley, spokesman for the police department. “The officers spend a great deal of time in their cars. When they have contact with people, it’s often near their vehicles.”

McKinley said the police department may look into getting body-mounted cameras as the technology improves. But there are other issues to be worked out, he noted: Should every call be recorded, even, say, police helping a mother with an unruly child? And what happens to the recordings afterward and who gets to view them? “I’m not sure every aspect of every police contact should be recorded,” McKinley added.

Lt. Josh Kellerman, spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol, said it would be a huge financial undertaking to outfit each of the patrol’s 400 officers with a camera and then secure enough server space to save the recordings.

“There’s a lot of logistics that would go with that,” he said, noting that the Kansas Highway Patrol has considered using body-mounted cameras and likely will again in the future. “It’s not just buy the cameras and use them.”

But Kellerman said that any kind of recording devices are great tools for law enforcement and the justice system.

“It’s for public safety,” he said. “It’s for the safety of the people we contact. It’s also for the safety of the officers.”