As part of its efforts to “reimagine public safety and policing,” the city of Olympia is working to get body-worn cameras and in-car video systems for its police.
The department is currently in the planning stages of getting the equipment. And to ensure the equipment is used properly and equitably, the city is seeking public feedback on the governing policy for use and management of collected video and audio footage.
People can visit the city’s Engage Olympia website to give feedback. The survey closes Wednesday, May 25.
This step in the process was recommended by the department’s Police Auditor Tara Parker, as well as current state law, according to the city. State law says a corrections agency that deploys body cameras has to establish policies that address when they must be worn and activated, how officers are trained to use them, and more.
Interim Police Chief Rich Allen said the use of body cameras and car video systems can increase transparency and enhance the public’s trust in police.
“We know from other communities that video and audio footage recorded from police in-car or body-worn cameras can provide valuable evidence from a dynamic incident,” he said in the release.
The police department has been talking about getting body-worn cameras since 2015 and has been working to get the funding and a system in place. Body-worn cameras should be in place by this summer, with in-car video systems coming next year.
In an interview with The Olympian, Eric Stahl, an attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle, said the law states that body camera and dashboard camera recordings are treated basically the same way as any other police public record. They’re usually a bit more expensive for the public to access, but any information on a particular incident or a specific officer’s body camera footage can be requested.
Stahl said the equipment is an important tool for transparency.
“They allow the public and interested parties to see what happened during any given police encounter,” Stahl said. “It takes the ‘he said, she said’ aspect out of what are sometimes contested or tense situations.”
Stahl said being able to see video footage of an incident also provides important evidence for prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys.
“I don’t see why any police agency in 2022 would not want to have body cams as a tool for law enforcement and public accountability,” he said. “They’re becoming ubiquitous; I think the public expects that there ought to be body cam footage.”
Carrie McCausland with the city of Olympia said the camera systems will be purchased with American Rescue Plan Act funds. The department laid out two options for five-year contracts for equipment, and McCausland said they’re leaning toward a contract with Axon, which will cost about $799,000.