Crime & Courts

Officials: Every Wichita police officer to have body cameras by end of 2015 (VIDEO)

Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley talks about the department’s plans to outfit every patrol officer with a body camera by the end of 2015. The department would need to buy 450 cameras, and the cost is estimated to be about $1.5 million.
Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley talks about the department’s plans to outfit every patrol officer with a body camera by the end of 2015. The department would need to buy 450 cameras, and the cost is estimated to be about $1.5 million. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita will become one of the largest cities in the country to outfit every police officer on the force with body cameras, Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley said Wednesday.

The department is adding 450 cameras to the 60 already deployed, Mosley said. The body cameras will be fully implemented by the end of 2015 and will cost an estimated $1.5 million.

That money will come from the existing city budget, officials said. They will look at what changes can be made in existing programs to generate the needed revenue.

“We don’t have $1.5 million sitting in reserve that we can revert to cameras,” City Manager Robert Layton said.

“Everything’s on the table right now” as a potential funding source, he said.

The update on body cameras came during a status report Wednesday by police and city officials and community leaders as a follow-up to the community forum held Aug. 28 at East High School. That meeting was organized in response to protests that followed a police officer’s shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9.

Over the course of that August meeting, which was called #NoFergusonHere, participants questioned police procedures on officer-involved shootings, urged the education and mentoring of young black men about how to respond to officers, questioned hiring practices within the department, and called for both the community and the police to be accountable for improving relations.

“Our people and our community were taking advantage of the opportunity to come together,” Junius Dotson, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, said Wednesday.

Mosley said it will take about a year to fully implement outfitting all officers with body cameras because so many other police departments are ordering cameras as well. Additional staff will need to be hired to manage the video from the cameras, Mosley said, and clear policies on operating the cameras will need to be in place.

Wichita police will be using face-level cameras displaying “what the officers are viewing,” Mosley said.

Phoenix and San Diego are the only larger cities in the U.S. that deploy body mounted cameras on their officers, Capt. Doug Nolte said.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents Wichita officers, detectives and sergeants, issued a statement supporting the implementation of cameras.

“Body cameras are a silent witness to the interaction between officers and residents,” union president Paul Zamorano said. “They would help protect the public from police misconduct and protect the officers from false allegations, while also providing invaluable information when there are conflicting accounts of an officer’s actions during the call.”

Wednesday’s briefing was to let Wichita residents know that the August meeting was not a one-time event, officials said.

“This is a progress report,” Layton said.

A series of meetings involving community leaders have been held since that community forum in August. Kenya Cox, president of the Wichita Branch NAACP, said those meetings have been positive.

“There has been a breach in trust and confidence that our community has had with our police department,” Cox said.

Other officials expressed enthusiasm for what has been happening since the community forum was held.

“I’m excited to see where we can take Wichita,” City Council member Lavonta Williams said.

Among the changes being made by police officials are additional training for officers so they’re better able to interact with residents who have mental health issues. Every officer will be given Mental Health First Aid training, in partnership with Comcare of Sedgwick County and the Sedgwick County Crisis Intervention Team Council.

“We’re also exploring other avenues for this type of training,” Mosley said. “We continue to believe mental health training in our department is valuable.”

Only 89 of the department’s 617 officers and supervisors are trained and certified in crisis intervention, according to statistics provided by city officials.

More than one recent shooting by Wichita police has involved victims with mental health issues, including former serviceman Icarus Randolph, who was fatally wounded July 4. Randolph, 26, was a Marine veteran who had served in Iraq and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, his family says.

One message that emerged from the meeting in August was to improve communication with relatives of people involved in police shootings.

“We have done a better job” communicating with families since then, Mosley said.

Jeffrey Holden Jr., 18, was fatally wounded in a shootout with police late last month after the police say he opened fire on an officer in west Wichita. Police officials released more information more quickly about the incident than was done in past officer-involved shootings.

“We’re trying to … be as transparent and open as possible,” Mosley said.

The City Manager’s Review Board will be replaced by an independent review board, and officials said input is still being gathered on how that board should be comprised. That work is part of the organizational assessment of the police department now under way, Layton said.

One thing that will not change, Mosley said, is the department’s commitment to community policing.

“What we want to do is renew and refocus our efforts,” Mosley said. “The main function of community policing is the community and police working together.”

Another community meeting will be held before the end of the year – likely shortly after Thanksgiving, Layton said – so that input from that meeting can be factored into the final organizational review, which is due Dec. 31. So far, he said, that assessment is proceeding on course.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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