After several years of discussion, the agency Wash. receives bodycams

By Ty Vinson
The Olympian

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Olympia Police Department officers now have body cameras, a tool the city has been trying to implement for several years.

Chief Rich Allen said officers started wearing the cameras on Halloween. The city began discussions about implementing body cameras and dash cams in 2015, and city council approved funding last year to make it happen in 2022.

“It looks like we’ve been working on this for a year, and we’ve done it, and from the outside it may seem like a long time to get us up and running,” Allen said. “But I’m proud of the work done by our team. It was a big job to get there.”

In May, Allen and other members of the department made presentations to city council and the public, explaining why the department needs body-worn cameras and giving people a chance to speak out on the issue. A vendor, Axon Network, was selected to supply the equipment under an $800,000 contract.

Allen said the department already has a contract with Axon for its digital evidence management system.

[DOWNLOAD: Police1’s 2022 guide to body-worn cameras]

The city has opened a public comment period for people to weigh in on which department is getting the technology. Allen said there were 114 responses and most concerns were about privacy and access.

He said the department is able to remove bits of information from images as needed, such as in situations where people are in a medical facility, there are minors or there is nudity. More information can be found on the city’s website.

Access to the images will work the same as any other public records request, he said, and a fee could also be charged, depending on the amount of redaction involved.

He said people were also concerned about officers wearing cameras properly, keeping them on and clear.

“We give it to them, they have to wear it, they have to use it appropriately, and they can’t turn it off when they’re not supposed to,” Allen said. “All of this has been addressed in our policy.”

He said officers and the police union fully support body cameras and see the value in wearing them.

Axon recently completed equipping TCOMM, the dispatch center, with the technology. Allen said they use what’s called auto-tagging, where the body camera will recognize an officer’s call for duty, and it will automatically link video and audio files to that information.

The department is also expected to receive dash cams, but they won’t arrive until 2023.

According to the department’s website, the cameras have a 146-degree angle of view from the officer’s chest. They record both audio and video at 720p and 30 frames per second. They can store up to 26 hours of video and their autonomy is 12 hours.

There will be an open house at 6 p.m. on November 21 at City Hall for people to learn about the equipment, see how it works and more.

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