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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wichita police seek to purchase body cameras for officers

BY RICK PLUMLEE
The Wichita Eagle

Getting a full video of what actually happens at a crime scene always helps in sorting out the details later.

For that reason, Wichita police Tuesday will ask the City Council to approve the purchase of new body cameras to be used by officers.

A federal grant would cover the $125,000 cost to purchase 20 body-worn computer systems and cameras, plus 20 additional cameras. The city's cost would be an estimated annual charge of $24,000 for storing the data at a secure off-site facility and the retrieval of that data.

A computer on the officer's gun belt is connected to a camera worn on the head.

Getting a complete video of a crime scene for evidence that can be used in court would be the most significant use of the camera, said Capt. Jeff Easter.

That's exactly what happened in several cases last February when six cameras were field tested by the police department for 30 days.

The cameras' data also came in handy in repudiating some complaints against officers.

"We were able to tell the citizen, 'It's all on camera, and this is exactly what occurred.' It kind of ended those complaints," Easter said.

At the same time, he said the cameras would help the department hold police officers accountable.

Wichita police have used cameras mounted on the dashes of patrol cars, but the department said those cameras capture only what is happening directly in front of the car. Because the body cameras are mounted on the head, the camera sees what the officer sees.

Battery life prevents an officer from having it on all the time. An officer would turn on the camera when coming up to a scene, Easter said.

Once captured on the camera, the video is secure.

"We can't delete anything," Easter said. "It can't be manipulated. You have to have that type of system or it won't be allowable in court.

"A lot of times you see videos, you're only seeing the portion caught on video the person wants you to see, whereas our videos captures everything."

The cameras would be spread out among the five patrol bureaus and perhaps other units, Easter said. Purchasing the additional 20 cameras and would allow the department to use them seven days a week instead of four, he added.

Reach Rick Plumlee at 316-268-6660 or rplumlee@wichitaeagle.com.

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