Only one thing stands in the way of Woodbury patrol officers hitting the streets with a new tool to heighten accountability and transparency: The body cameras haven’t come yet.
Despite a preliminary goal of finalizing policies and rolling out a pilot project around March 1, it appears that high demand for the equipment from WatchGuard Video has Woodbury waiting its turn in line.
“Not yet,” said Cmdr. John Altman of the Woodbury Police Department. “We’re still waiting for the hardware to ship from the manufacturer.”
The delay — expected to be a couple weeks — hasn’t been caused by any pushback or problem, Altman said. There are just a lot of customers in line for the WatchGuard system. Also, Woodbury police installed a new audio system in squad cars last year and work is being done so the video and audio systems mesh.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s largest law enforcement department, starting using a different body camera system in January.
Woodbury’s pilot program, which involves eight body cameras to be used daily by 16 patrol officers over two shifts, follows months of research by a team of Woodbury police and IT personnel, the crafting of a draft policy to govern the use of the cameras and feedback from a coalition of civil rights, privacy and media interest groups.
At a time when police encounters with the public can be stormy and disputed, Woodbury police officials said the primary purpose of using body cameras is to capture evidence when police and citizens interact.
In developing the draft policy, Woodbury police officials said they had to consider how to balance public demands for accountability and transparency with the privacy concerns of those being recorded. Altman said police want to build trust in the community while at the same time ensuring and enhancing officer and public safety.
“We’re pretty excited to get started,” Altman said.
According to the department’s draft policy, the body cameras will be used mostly by on-duty patrol officers, although detectives may also use the cameras while executing search warrants. All recordings will remain police property and, whenever a an officer makes a recording, that will be noted in an incident report or a dispatch record of the event.
Officers wearing the cameras will be required to activate them when responding to all calls for service “to the extent practical without compromising officer safety,” the draft policy states. If an officer does not activate the camera as soon as safely possible, the officer must “thoroughly” document the reasons.
State law dictates that body camera recordings are confidential until active criminal investigations conclude, at which point any video showing use of force by a police officer that results in substantial bodily harm becomes public.
Woodbury’s pilot program is expected to run through the end of 2017 and cost about $10,000. The police department will review how well it worked before making recommendations to the City Council.
“We’ll go back to council in the fourth quarter with our findings and see if they want to want to purchase more,” he said. “Ultimately, we would like to see this on every shift and on every patrol cop.”