With body camera testing nearly complete and policy underway, police expect to begin using cameras this summer

photo by: Associated Press

In this file photo from April 26, 2017, a police officer wears a body camera during a news conference in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A group of Lawrence police officers has been testing body cameras for nearly three months, and the department now says all officers will be equipped with cameras this summer.

Originally, the three-month testing period was to start in September 2018, but the department could not begin testing until the U.S. Justice Department approved the department’s draft policy for operating the cameras. Police Capt. Trent McKinley said in an email to the Journal-World that the U.S. Justice Department approved the department’s draft policy in November.

McKinley said 10 officers, with support from four other police department staff members, have been using cameras as part of the testing, which began in November and will conclude at the end of this month.

McKinley said the department would evaluate the test results early next month and then select a camera vendor. He said differences among the cameras include video resolution, sound, battery performance, mounting options, management of videos, when the camera activates and where the footage is stored — either locally or on the cloud.

“Because of this, we anticipate a thorough review of the testing and evaluation process ahead of a purchase decision,” McKinley said.

McKinley did not immediately respond to a follow-up question regarding whether all the cameras being considered will start recording automatically under certain conditions, such as when emergency lights are activated or a weapon is drawn, or whether any of the models must be manually activated by officers.

Half of the money to purchase the cameras, which are budgeted to cost $462,000, will be funded by a federal grant. The Justice Department is providing $231,000 toward the purchase, and the city of Lawrence is matching those funds. The city has also hired a technician to assist with the body camera program.

Before the cameras are put into use, the public is expected to have a chance to learn more about how and when the cameras will be used.

City officials have said the department’s policy governing the use of the cameras does not require approval by the Lawrence City Commission, but in September commissioners said they would like to publicly review the policy and have the opportunity to provide comments. Body camera policies generally determine aspects such as when cameras are turned on, what happens with the footage that is captured and how much discretion the police department has in those decisions.

The Journal-World requested the policy approved by the Justice Department, but McKinley said it is still in draft form because it is pending updates related to the camera selection.

“We will make additional changes to the policy before full deployment of the cameras to incorporate vendor specific language, lessons learned during the testing and incorporate any other needed updates,” McKinley said.

Once those updates are complete, McKinley said the policy will be available for public release and that the department will periodically review it to incorporate changes in state law, case law and local preferences. He said the policy also has to meet certain criteria from the Justice Department in order for the city to receive the grant.

McKinley said that the department expects full deployment of the cameras this summer after staff receives training on their use.


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