Grant funds Bainbridge police video cameras

Officer Victor Cienega models the new Vievu on-body recording devices the Bainbridge officers will be wearing on duty. The camera attaches to the front buttons of the officer
Officer Victor Cienega models the new Vievu on-body recording devices the Bainbridge officers will be wearing on duty. The camera attaches to the front buttons of the officer's shirt
— image credit: Jessica Hoch/Staff photo

For anyone who is camera-shy there is even more incentive to avoid trouble with the law.

The Bainbridge patrol officers are now filming their interactions with the public through a cell phone sized video recording device attached to the buttons of their shirts.

“There are two sides to every story, the officer side and the complainant side, but a video is an unblinking, unbiased witness to what happened,” said Lt. Bob Day of the Bainbridge Island Police Department. “Ultimately this is a tool to protect the officers and the citizens. We have nothing to hide and we want transparency; having the video with [officers] and recording what they are doing just goes to substantiate that.”

BIPD is using money from the Tribal Mitigation Funds, which is granted to the city to alleviate costs from the impact of casinos to fund the cameras; no taxpayer funds are being used.

The police department began looking for a cost-effective way to have video and audio recording capabilities with officers at the beginning of 2010.

All 19 of the BIPD patrol officers will carry the cameras while on duty, and are strongly recommended to turn the cameras on during contact with the public.

The cameras have four hours of storage time and cost about $1,000 each. Officers can turn the devices on and off while on duty, and will load the data onto a secured server. Supervisors will have access to all video data, but officers can only view their own recordings. Neither supervisors nor officers will be allowed to edit or alter the video.

“So far there is still a learning curve when a camera doesn’t get turned on or there is a technology hiccup,” said Day.

The police department tried to avoid creating an enforcement policy that would punish an officer if the camera isn't turned on or the video is somehow compromised.

The software automatically purges the video storage after 30 days unless the officers marked the video to be saved to be used as evidence or for officer or attorney records.

After consulting the State Attorney General’s Office,  BIPD instructed officers to advise citizens that they are being recorded in both the public and private sectors at the beginning of their contact and to continue recording until contact ends, according to Cmdr. Sue Shultz. Officers will continue taping even if a citizen requests that the camera be turned off.

According to a 2006 State Supreme Court decision, Lewis V. Department of Licensing, officers need to notify citizens that they are being recorded, but they are not required to get their consent.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General said the state agency is unable to provide a legal opinion on the matter at this time.

Day said the anticipated benefits stemming from the body cameras are multi-layered. With video evidence, police hope officers will have more successful prosecutions in court in cases like a typical drunken driving arrest when the department may have to rely only on an officer's testimony versus that of a suspect.

Day also said that studies show that officer safety improves when subjects know they are being recorded and the police department may be able to save money by not expending time and man hours investigating complaints when they have a video to reference.

Police agencies around the state are giving body cameras a new look, especially in light of high-profile misconduct cases, like the officer shooting of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams in August of 2010. Without video evidence a King County inquest jury couldn’t come to an agreement about the shooting even though the Firearms Review Board and other community organizations deemed the shooting as being unjustified.

The Washington State Patrol has cameras in about 100 patrol cars and is looking to place the cameras in all of its patrol vehicles. The City of Seattle has been looking into getting the on-body cameras for the last several months at the urging of a Seattle council member.

Police agencies in Airway Heights, Lake Forest Park, Black Diamond and Orting are wearing the cameras on trail and permanent bases.

Bainbridge officer Victor Coinage said that he and the other officers are still working out the kinks when using the cameras in the field.

He said he has already made the mistake of leaving his camera recording long after interaction with a citizen ended.

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