Wichita police testing out 6 body-mounted cameras

A half-dozen Wichita police officers are testing a new body camera system that records everything the officers see and do outside their vehicles.

The field tests began two weeks ago and will continue for another two weeks, Capt. Jeff Easter said Wednesday.

"Anything that they get out of the vehicle on, they'll record," Easter said of the officers. "Anything is evidence. You never know what's going to happen in front of you when you get out on the scene."

Early results are promising.

"It's a very good system," Easter said. "The video quality is amazing. It's much better than any other camera system we've looked at in the past."

The system is manufactured by Taser, which is letting Wichita police try it out. The head-mounted system resembles a Bluetooth and can also be attached to an officer's hat or eyewear.

Officer Rich McCluney, one of the six Patrol North officers testing the system, said it was light and comfortable to wear.

"After a few hours of wearing it, you don't even know you've got it on," McCluney said.

He feels safer with the body camera on, McCluney said, because it also has a GPS locator that would allow dispatchers to know where he is even if he's away from his vehicle.

The camera has a 110-degree field of view, and its video has been submitted to detectives in at least three cases worked by police so far.

"We've had a couple of DUIs on camera — that's always great for evidence for court," Easter said.

Another case involves a man who had a shotgun in his car and got into a scuffle with an officer at a downtown apartment complex.

Wichita police already deploy dash-mounted cameras in some patrol cars. The body camera systems would not replace those, Easter said; they would be "an additional tool."

Along with providing evidence in criminal cases, he said, the footage can substantiate or refute complaints against police officers. The footage can not be altered, it can only be stored, retrieved or tagged to mark significant segments.

The cameras cost $5,000 each, which includes one year of video storage. After the first year, the storage costs for each camera would be $1,200.

Police officials will review assessments of the system once the field trials are completed, Easter said, and then decide whether — and how many — to buy.

If they decide to add the cameras, he said, they will then have to start hunting for money to pay for them.

Easter noted Sunflower Community Action's long-standing calls for police cameras, in part to increase officer accountability.

"It comes down to money," Easter said. "It always comes down to money."

The department chose dash-mounted cameras for traffic enforcement patrol cars because officials weren't satisfied with body-mounted systems on the market.

"We think this might be the right camera system," Easter said.