Wheels are turning to get Springfield Police body cams by early 2021

Published: Sep. 21, 2020 at 6:08 PM CDT
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About 80 percent of large police departments (500 or more officers) and 30 percent of small ones use body cams across the country and although it’s been talked about in Springfield well before the latest civil unrest surrounding police behavior, it does appear that the city’s police officers will be equipped with body cams by early next year as the final push starts Monday night with the city council’s first reading on the program leading to a vote in early October.

“I don’t anticipate this not passing in two weeks," said Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams of the positive feedback he’s received about acquiring the cameras. "Although I’ve been asking for these for about eight years I think waiting is going to benefit the department and the community in that it’s going to be done right.”

Williams pointed out that the long wait’s benefits include that the cost of the cameras has gone down over the years and that he’s been able to see the problems other law enforcement agencies have had in dealing with body cams and hopefully avoid them.

Around 60 companies offer body cams that can be worn in a variety of places from the chest to the lapel or attached to glasses. Williams says he plans on buying about 240 of the square-type models from Motorola at a cost of $612,000 that will come out of the city’s public works quarter-cent sales tax revenue sometimes known as the “pothole fund”.

When you consider that the system will involve storing thousands of hours of video, it’s also estimated that it will cost about $150,000 a year to maintain the program and for a while at least no new employees will be added to manage it.

Williams says the number priority right now is developing protocols for using the cameras, seeking input from the public and his civilian advisory group to address the wide-range of viewpoints.

There are those who consider the cameras essential for transparency.

“Without that camera footage, we’re just considered as good as guilty,” said Jamille Jones with the United Community Change organization.

There are others concerned about the legal ramifications.

“We do think there are privacy concerns that need to be addressed through strong policies,” said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring.

Williams agreed that drawing up proper procedures is a critical part of starting the program even before the cameras are turned on.

“That’s our big consideration is when they’re going to be on and when they’re not going to be on," he said. "Making sure that we capture anything that would be of evidentiary value certainly is the number one thing. But folks have to understand you just can’t turn them on and let them run for a ten-hour shift. That’s inconceivable and certainly there’s a lot of privacy concerns there.”

There have been studies showing both benefits and drawbacks to body cams. In Washington D.C. a study that tracked 2,000 officers over an 18 month span with some wearing body cams and others not. The results showed no difference in the use of force or civilian complaints among those two groups.

Williams says he’s looked at the research and concluded that the positives far outweigh the negatives.

“It gives that public perception of accountability and trust in law enforcement that we’re not hiding anything," he said. "There’s a lot of studies out there that have been kind of mixed, but I think the number one thing that has come from all those is people behave differently when they’re being recorded or know they’re being recorded. That goes for the public and the police as well.”

Copyright 2020 KY3. All rights reserved.

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