SPOKANE, Wash. - Police cars have had video cameras on their dashboards for a long time, but the next generation of cameras are worn on the officer's body. Body-worn cameras are about the size of a deck of cards or small cell phone. They're clipped on the front of an officer's uniform or worn over their ear like a bluetooth device. The cameras record what the officer sees and hears.
The Airway Heights Police Department, Post Falls Police Department and Kootenai County Sheriff's Office all have body cameras.
Airway Heights Police Chief Lee Bennett bought one for every officer in his department 18 months ago for $15,000. The cameras were on sale.
Bennett says the officers are required to flip the cameras on at the beginning of a call and keep them rolling until the end.
"We're able to take them into crime scenes, use them for the investigation, and use them for interviews," Bennett said. "They've been a very useful tool and I'm glad we purchased them."
A study by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found 50 percent of complaints against officers are immediately withdrawn when video evidence is available.
Bennett says his department received two complaints since getting the cameras. Both were dropped. In one case, the parents of an 18-year-old woman complained an officer yelled at their daughter and belittled her during a traffic stop. Bennett said he showed the family the video and they dropped the complaint.
"We come back and looked at the Vievu (video)," Bennett said. "It's right there and your time investigating the complaint is minimized and it saves you money."
Bennett says it would take several man hours investigating complaints before the cameras. Investigators would have to interview the officer and any possible witnesses of the alleged incident. Now, the video is reviewed and complaints can be resolved in minutes instead of days or weeks.
Bennett says they call it the third witness, "It's unbiased. It tells you exactly what's going on."
The cameras could also save departments millions in civil lawsuits and negative media attention.
The family of the pastor killed by a Spokane County sheriff's deputy wishes deputies wore the cameras. Scott Creach was killed by Deputy Brian Hirzel last year in front of his Spokane Valley greenhouse business.
Hirzel told investigators he shot Creach in the chest because the 74-year-old Baptist pastor reached for a gun in his waistband.
"If there had been a camera there that night, there wouldn't be any question about what happened," said Scott Creach's son Alan.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich wants body cams. He says he's asked Spokane County Commissioners for the cameras twice but was denied because the county doesn't have the money. Knezovich says it will cost $650,000 to put body cameras on 150 deputies in patrol. The major expense is buying computers to store the video. The video must also be saved for several years.
Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick also wants video cameras but says the city can't afford them.
"Officers welcome cameras, I welcome cameras, and the community wants the cameras," Kirkpatrick said. "It's the future. "
Kirkpatrick is pushing for dash cameras to be installed in her department's patrol cars instead of the body cameras.
She says she prefers the in-car cameras because they've already been tested in courts, while the body cams do not have as many legal challenges.
"I want to go with what I know is solid legal analysis and with respect to car cams, that is sold," Kirkpatrick said.
The dash cams are more expensive, at $5,000 dollars each. Kirkpatrick says it would cost $1 million for a system.
Spokane City Police Ombudsman Tim Burns told KXLY4 he hasn't researched the cameras but likes the idea. He said anything that makes the department more transparent and accountable is good. Burns says research on dash cameras found officers were doing the right thing 96 percent of the time.
A spokesman for the Washington chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union told KXLY4 the organization opposes the body cams. He said they have concerns with a system that allows the officer to be in charge of when they are turned on and off.
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