Sierra Vista police ready to don body cameras next week

Sierra Vista police officer Allen Foote sports one of the local agency's 60 body cameras. The device is the small, square camera on the front of Foote's uniform, next to the police uniform identification.

SIERRA VISTA — After more than three years of testing equipment and drafting policy, Sierra Vista police officers are looking forward to Wednesday, Feb. 8.

That’s the first day local cops will be wearing a body camera on the front of their uniform and following a new policy that guides them in recording most of what happens during their time on the street.

“The officers have been looking forward to it,” said Sierra Vista Police Chief Adam Thrasher. “Ever since we started testing these cameras in-house, the officers have been asking when we can start wearing body cameras.”

Though it took some time and study to determine which system would fit the needs of the local department, Thrasher said most of the preparation process was focused on putting together a policy governing how the cameras will be used.

The Sierra Vista City Council authorized the department to purchase 62 of the cameras, with docking stations, at a first year cost of about $92,000. Thrasher said equipment is being paid for from proceeds allocated under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which are funds generated by law enforcement activities that result in asset forfeiture proceedings.

Sierra Vista has signed a five-year contract with Taser, a police equipment technology company, to purchase the AXON Body 2 camera system. Commander Jon Kosmider said officers will wear the device, which weighs less than one pound, on the front of their uniform and at the end of their shift, place the camera in a docking station.

“The docking station then downloads the video and catalogues it online,” Kosmider said.

Cameras are manually activated and the new department policy directs officers on when they are responsible to record.

“For most routine activities, like traffic stops, arrests and other instances of citizen interactions, the cameras will be recording,” Kosmider said.

Thrasher said the policy specifically prohibits officers recording when there are privacy concerns, talking to undercover sources, or other “in-department” activities, like daily briefings.

“We’ve had cameras in patrol cars for quite some time, so the idea of this isn’t new,” Thrasher said. “What other agencies are finding is that there are real advantages to having this technology.”

The police chief said law enforcement officers are reporting body cameras can change the behavior of some people when they realize they are being recorded. He noted that officers also recognize their accountability when the camera is on.

Other agencies are also reporting the cameras are reducing allegations and complaints against police, Thrasher said.

“There are also limitations with these cameras as well. A body camera doesn’t follow an officer’s eyes or see what they see,” Thrasher said.

Officers will download their daily videos to a remote computer server, maintained by Taser, with software that allows videos to be edited, for public record requests.

“This will be handled just like public records now. When we receive a request, the record is redacted, if necessary, and released to the public. We’re all about transparency,” Thrasher said.

The police chief said the department’s new policy is specific on the steps followed when an officer is involved in a “critical incident,” including a shooting or other  instances that result in serious injury. Initial statements by involved officers should be made prior to the officer viewing the video. Once an initial statement is made, the officers will be allowed to view the video and offer an opportunity to make a follow-up statement, Thrasher said.

“Timing of the public release of the videos in these cases will most likely be made sometime after the officers initial statement,” he said. ““These videos are just one piece of the investigation and we want to make sure we get the most accurate picture of what occurred,” Thrasher said.

The contract with Taser includes software that allows officers to “tag” a body camera immediately after a recording, using their mobile phone, Kosmider said.

“The officer can log information that identifies information about a specific incident, so when the video is downloaded, there’s a reference available on that incident.”

Thrasher said the body cameras offer accountability for both police officers and for people who are being recorded.

“This is just one more form of evidence. This isn’t the only evidence that is brought to an investigation, but it’s another piece,” Thrasher said.