Vancouver council recommends fast-tracking body cameras

Calley Hair, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.
·4 min read

Feb. 23—The city of Vancouver is planning to fast-track an initiative to get body-worn and dashboard cameras for police officers, prioritizing the cameras in the short term over other policing reforms already under consideration by a community task force.

In an exchange with representatives from the Community Task Force on Policing on Monday evening, the city council indicated that they'd like to push forward with the cameras as a separate issue before the group concludes its work in October. The decision will ultimately be left up to the task force, which meets again next week.

"The lack of movement on body-worn cameras is seriously impacting our credibility in the community, and I don't think you can put a price tag on that," Councilor Erik Paulsen said during Monday evening's workshop.

The task force formed in the aftermath of multiple use-of-force incidents in early 2019 when law enforcement shot four people over the course of a few months. The community's response spurred the Vancouver Police Department to solicit an independent assessment from the Police Executive Research Forum, a think-tank that analyzes policing strategies.

Following a yearlong series of interviews and on-site interactions with the police department, the PERF released a report in June 2020 that detailed 84 recommended changes to the department's trainings and protocols.

The 10-person Community Task Force on Policing convened soon after. Its job, according to City Manager Eric Holmes, was twofold: To ensure that the PERF report's recommendations were implemented in a transparent way, and to advise on establishing a VPD body-worn camera program.

Ed Hamilton Rosales, a task force member and president of the Southwest Washington Council for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he recommends separating those two objectives. While unpacking the 84 recommendations in the program is vital work, he said, it doesn't necessarily make sense to tie body cameras to that same arduous timeline.

That two Black men were shot and killed by Clark County sheriff's deputies in the last few months has only made the issue more urgent, Hamilton Rosales added.

"The recent (spate) of killings, for lack of a better way of putting it, has escalated that conversation to multiple levels," Hamilton Rosales said. "Somewhere along the line, we're going to have to bifurcate the program to be able to implement the body cams that everybody — including the chief — wants, while still taking a look at the PERF report."

"I don't guarantee we're going to have the ability to do both at the same time moving forward," Hamilton Rosales continued.

In a general consensus, the city council agreed. While councilors pointed out that the work of a community task force ought to be left up to its members, deploying body cameras should be prioritized in the meantime.

"It feels very uncomfortable that we are in a sense adjusting the goals of the task force from the outside because of public pressure, but the public pressure is very real," Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover said.

According to Holmes, Vancouver has already allocated $3 million for police reform. That funding would be available for the start-up costs implementing body-worn cameras.

The city still needs to launch a competitive bidding process for camera vendors and continue its negotiations with the two unions that represent VPD officers, Holmes added. At the very soonest, the police department could have a fully-operational body-worn camera program by early 2022.

County prosecutors join the chorus

The task force's report to the city council came just a few hours after Clark County prosecutors issued a letter announcing their support for body-worn cameras.

Earlier Monday, Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Office Action and Reform Committee and Prosecutor Tony Golik joined the group calling for the cameras after sheriff's deputies shot and killed two Black men in the last few months.

"A law enforcement agency that deploys body-worn cameras is making a statement that it believes the actions of its officers are a matter of public record. Doing so enables law enforcement agencies to demonstrate transparency and openness in their interactions with members of their communities," the letter states.