Bainbridge police to get mandatory body cameras

Bainbridge Island will buy new police body cameras for all of its officers, as well as dash-mounted cameras for the city’s patrol cars.

And they’ll get used, city officials stressed this week.

Although the Bainbridge Island Police Department was one of the first in the state to equip its officers with body cams more than five years ago, use of the cameras was not mandatory.

But that’s changed, Police Chief Matthew Hamner said Tuesday, thanks to a new agreement with the union that represents the city’s uniformed officers.

The new cameras will activate automatically anytime a police officer removes a sidearm from a holster, or a Taser, and whenever lights are turned on in a patrol car, Hamner said.

The Bainbridge Island City Council gave an unanimous first approval to the purchase of the new cameras — as well as an interview room camera system for the police station — at its meeting Tuesday.

The council signed off on a contract for a five-year purchase of the new gear from Axon Enterprise, Inc. for $347,916.

Axon, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based company, also manufactures Tasers, a less-than-lethal electroshock weapon.

Hamner told the council Tuesday that the earlier setup, of having optional body cam use by officers, can prompt speculation about when officers decide to turn on their cameras, or when they don’t.

The new agreement with the police guild changes that, he said.

Hamner also acknowledged the high cost of the equipment, but added that Axon cameras are the preferred choice of many law enforcement departments.

“This is what is most commonly used in police agencies across the nation,” Hamner said.

Council members were supportive of the purchase, though Councilman Ron Peltier said he would vote for the equipment acquisition “reluctantly” because it was an unbudgeted expense — and not the first one the council had seen recently.

“I understand it’s important; there’s a lot of things that are important,” Peltier said.

Councilwoman Sarah Blossom, however, said the purchase agreement also included storage and indexing support.

“I think it’s a pretty good deal,” Blossom said.

Council members agreed to move the purchase to the July 24 council meeting for a final approval.