Lawrence City Commission to review draft policy for police department body cameras

photo by: Associated Press

In this file photo from July 3, 2019, a Phoenix police officer reaches for an Axon Body 2 body camera.

City leaders will soon review the Lawrence Police Department’s draft policy for body cameras, which includes details on how the cameras and the footage they record will be used and handled.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will receive a presentation from the police department on the new body camera program and the draft policy. Though the commission is not required to approve administrative policies, Police Capt. Trent McKinley told the Journal-World in an email that during the presentation he anticipated receiving feedback about the new program and the draft policy.

“Any suggestions for improving the proposed program or policy will certainly be considered as we prepare for the rollout of the cameras,” McKinley said.

The commission approved funding for the body cameras as part its 2018 budget. Following police testing and evaluation of several types of cameras, the commission authorized the police department to enter into a five-year contract with Axon Enterprises Inc. for $1.26 million, which will be funded in part by a $231,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The contract covers the purchase of 154 body cameras and associated software and hardware and will outfit all members of the police force with a camera.

The policy that the commission will review on Tuesday includes provisions about activation of the cameras, use of the cameras, and control and retention of recordings.

The provision dealing with the activation of the cameras, or when the cameras should be recording, states in part that police should activate the camera when they believe it would be appropriate or valuable to record an incident. It goes on to state that police are encouraged to activate their cameras while en route to the call location, but shall have the camera activated prior to arrival. McKinley said the intent was to have the cameras in operation in nearly all situations where officers are engaged in enforcement actions.

The cameras will also begin recording automatically under certain circumstances. The full policy is about five pages and is available on the city’s website.

Police body cameras can be activated in different ways, and McKinley said the camera system the city purchased allowed for automatic activation when the emergency lights were activated in patrol vehicles. He said in that way, should officers have to respond to an emergency situation or initiate a car stop, they will not have to take the additional step of manually activating the camera.

McKinley said the camera was also designed to activate automatically when the camera detected a gunshot sound, which he said was a feature the police department believed to be very important as camera vendors were evaluated. He noted that whether a camera is activated manually or automatically, there is a 30-second “look back” from the time the camera is turned on that preserves the footage immediately prior to the activation.

“In the scenario of automatic activation upon hearing a gun shot, the recording will also contain 30 seconds of video showing what led up to the point of hearing the gunshot,” McKinley said.

He said the police department has asked a representative from Axon to attend the meeting in the event there are other questions regarding the camera features.

The draft policy also states that police may surreptitiously, or covertly, record any conversation during the course of a criminal investigation in which they reasonably believe that such a recording would be lawful and beneficial to the investigation. There are several prohibited uses of the cameras, including using the recordings for personal use and making personal copies of recordings without approval. Police also shall not post any recording to any website, including social media websites, without approval.

Regarding control and retention of the recordings, the draft policy states that police shall ensure the camera is placed in a docking station for the recordings to begin the transfer process prior to the end of their shift. Recordings that are deemed to not have evidentiary value will be deleted after 90 days.

The draft policy includes different retention rules for different types of crimes or investigations. Some recordings will be maintained indefinitely, such as recordings that deal with a death investigation, homicide or crimes involving terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Any other felony or misdemeanor will be maintained five years; a complaint against police will be maintained for three years; and any use of force incident will be maintained for seven years.

When it comes to review of the recordings outside the department, the policy states that the police chief or authorized designee may authorize other entities to review recordings. That includes the use of force review board, the accident review committee and the community police review board. The policy states that other requests to review recordings will be processed in line with state open records law.

The police department expects to roll out the body cameras in the coming weeks. McKinley said the police department would receive training from Axon representatives the week of Jan. 27, during which officers will be issued the camera equipment. He said once the officers have received training and the police chief gave final approval to the policy, the cameras would be deployed.


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