Ten Vancouver police officers were equipped with cameras Wednesday, along with six police vehicles, as the department announced the beginning of a 60-day trial period of a camera program.
This could be one of multiple systems the agency tests out before settling on a vendor, Vancouver Assistant Police Chief Troy Price said during an afternoon media briefing at the department’s West Precinct. The goal is to roll out the program departmentwide in the late spring of 2022. The system launched Wednesday scored highest when reviewing submissions to the city’s request for proposals.
The officers who donned cameras Wednesday volunteered for the trial period. The department had more than 10 volunteers, so Price said it chose from a variety of units and shifts.
Officer Ilia Botvinnik said he felt “like RoboCop” with his new gadgets.
The body-worn cameras officers trained with this week resemble smartphones and fit into a pocket on their vests. Price said one advantage of this camera system is that it’s less likely to come off during a struggle than a camera mounted on the outside of a vest.
A button that activates and deactivates the camera can be attached to an officer’s vest, wrist or belt. There is also a sensor on the officers’ gun holsters that triggers the cameras to begin recording if they draw their weapons.
The cameras are always recording in 15-second clips, Price said, but if an officer doesn’t trigger the camera to record, the 15-second clip does not get uploaded to the department’s computer system. This camera system offers other features the agency could choose to implement, such as activating a recording if an officer begins running or approaches a location for a high-priority call.
In demonstrating the camera, bicycle patrol Officer Nicole Vigil said her concerns are remembering to activate it and being careful not to cover the lens when resting her hands on her vest.
She said she thinks the video will help document the behaviors she describes in reports, and she’s excited about having a say in which system the agency chooses.
Six police vehicles were rigged with a small, cylindrical camera mounted near the rearview mirror to record through the windshield; a second, larger camera attached to the partition faces the rear seat where someone who’s in custody sits.
The cost of leasing the equipment for the 60-day trial period is covered by the vendor, Price said, after which the department can decide whether to send the equipment back or move forward with a contract.
The city of Vancouver allocated $3 million to pay for the cameras, and $1.5 million in federal funding was earmarked for the program. Price said some of the funding won’t be released to the department until February, so it can’t have a contract signed before then. He said the greatest cost comes, not from the equipment, but from the human resources piece of the program and the extra records staff needed to oversee the stored data.
With the program rollout, Vancouver police officers will also get a 2 percent raise in 2022, as agreed upon between the city and the Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild.
The city fast-tracked the camera initiative after public demand for better transparency and accountability from the Vancouver Police Department. Public scrutiny intensified after officers shot four people in 2019, leading the department to seek an independent assessment from a third-party organization, the Police Executive Research Forum.
The report released in June 2020 included 84 recommended changes to the department’s training and protocols, including adoption of a camera program.
“What we’re hoping to do is through transparency into how we actually operate and how our officers are engaging with the public, to regain some of that trust that may have been lost over the years,” Price said. “So our measures of success are going to be that continued support and increasing that sense that the police are doing what the community expected them to do.”
Price said the department’s biggest hurdle with implementing the system so far has been the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it’s had on government funding.