Lawrence city commissioners supportive of police department’s proposed body camera policy

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 are generally supportive of 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 received a presentation from the police department on the new body camera program and the draft policy. Mayor Jennifer Ananda, who asked several technical questions about the draft policy, ultimately said she was happy to see the camera program ready to move forward.

“I know that this is something that’s been a long time in the making, so I’m very happy to see this,” Ananda said.

Though the commission is not required to approve administrative policies, Police Capt. Trent McKinley previously said feedback from commissioners would be considered as the department prepares for the rollout of the cameras.

McKinley responded to questions posed by commissioners and residents during public comment, several of which dealt with the activation of the cameras. The policy states in part that police should activate the cameras on the way to a call, and McKinley said that the cameras are automatically activated when the emergency lights go on in patrol vehicles and when the cameras detect a gunshot sound.

Police can manually activate and deactivate the cameras, and the policy states in part that the cameras should remain activated any time police believe it would be “appropriate or valuable to record an incident.” Whether the camera is turned on manually or automatically, there is a 30-second “look back” that preserves the footage immediately prior to the activation.

Lawrence resident Chris Flowers said he thought that letting police control when the cameras turn off would defeat the purpose of the cameras. Flowers said that if cameras were to be an effective tool in instances of police misconduct, they should be recording all the time. If that were not possible, Flowers asked if the 30-second look-back period could be longer. Another resident, Kirsten Kuhn, a representative of the Douglas County Libertarians, said the goal of the cameras is to have oversight of the police and that the cameras should therefore be recording all the time. Kuhn also expressed concern about the police potentially using the camera footage in combination with facial recognition software.

Following the public comment, Commissioner Lisa Larsen asked if it would be possible, given the battery life of the cameras, to keep them recording for the entirety of a shift. Sgt. Ryan Halsted said it was actually possible to record the entire shift, but that the problem was more about storage of what he said would be an enormous amount of data.

Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei asked whether the look-back period could be increased to one minute. Halsted said the look-back period can be customized, but that 30 seconds is standard practice and that it would also use more battery power to do a one-minute look-back period. McKinley added that the police dash-camera video system also uses a 30-second look-back period and that police have found that sufficient.

In response to Kuhn’s concern about using facial recognition in combination with the footage from the cameras, Commissioner Stuart Boley said he would consider that a change in policy and would expect the police department to bring any such proposal in front of the City Commission for review.

In addition to provisions about the activation of the cameras, the policy sets guidelines for the use of the cameras and control and retention of recordings. The full policy is about five pages and is available on the city’s website.

Halsted said the department anticipates that patrol officers will begin using the cameras Jan. 29.

In other business, the commission received a staff report on the city’s resolution governing employee unions. Representatives of the area union Teamsters Local 696 have said a group of city employees was interested in unionizing but the resolution limits employees’ ability to do so. The commission said it is interested in considering changes to the ordinance but decided it needed to consult with legal staff regarding potential changes. The commission scheduled an executive session to have that discussion as part of its next meeting.

City Commission Meeting 01/21/20

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