Attorney starts body camera campaign

Vancouver police chief say he sees benefits but raises policy concerns

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

Published:

 

A local former prosecutor wants body cameras on all uniformed police officers, and he’s hoping voters put them there.

Angus Lee, a Vancouver-based lawyer, kicked off a campaign and started gathering signatures Friday for a voter initiative requiring the use of body cameras. Lee will have to gather at least 246,372 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

“There is no justification in 2015 to not have the ability to record these critical incidents that are later mischaracterized by one side or the other,” Lee said.

Police shootings have spurred a national outcry in the past several months in cities from Ferguson, Mo., to Olympia.

Last month, two unarmed stepbrothers suspected of trying to steal beer from a grocery store were shot by police in Olympia, causing public protests in the state’s capital.

Lee said equipping police officers with body cameras should not be controversial.

“Everybody’s memory is faulty,” he said. “Nobody has a perfect memory, no one has a memory that can compare to a body camera.”

In his years as a Grant County prosecutor, reviewing tape from an officer-involved shooting also proved beneficial.

“What’s controversial is, anyone would help oppose something that’s so helpful to our society,” Lee said.

Vancouver Police Chief James McElvain said nobody in the Vancouver Police Department currently uses body cameras.

“This is something I see the profession moving toward,” he said. “Across the U.S., we see more agencies moving toward body cameras.”

And, he said, he sees a lot of benefit and understands there is public support for using the body cameras.

“But how we go about getting there becomes a question of do we have the funding for it, do we have agreement with the guild. … The right policies and procedures, those would need to be addressed,” he said.

Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, pushed a measure this legislative session that would have helped clarify privacy issues surrounding the use of body cameras.

“If we’re going to use body cameras, I want to be sure we’re protecting people’s privacy so footage of their most painful moments, of their private lives don’t end up on YouTube,” Hansen said.

Lawmakers are in the midst of a special legislative session with the goal of reaching a deal on a two-year operating budget. Hansen said he’s still hoping his bill could pass before lawmakers adjourn.