The city of Vancouver wants to fast-track an initiative to equip police with body-worn and dashboard cameras, prioritizing the cameras over other reforms already under consideration by a community task force.
In an exchange with representatives from the Community Task Force on Policing Monday evening, city council members indicated that they’d like to push forward with the cameras before the group concludes its work in October. The decision will ultimately be left up to the task force, which meets again next week.
“The lack of movement on body-worn cameras is seriously impacting our credibility in the community, and I don’t think you can put a price tag on that,” Councilor Erik Paulsen said.
The task force was formed in the aftermath of multiple use-of-force incidents in early 2019 when local law enforcement officers shot four people over the course of a few months. The community’s response spurred the Vancouver Police Department to solicit an independent assessment from the Police Executive Research Forum, which analyzes policing strategies.
Following a yearlong series of interviews and on-site interactions with the police department, PERF released a report in June 2020 that recommended 84 changes to Vancouver’s training and protocols.
The 10-member Community Task Force on Policing convened soon after. Its job, according to City Manager Eric Holmes, is twofold: To ensure that the PERF report’s recommendations are implemented in a transparent way, and to advise on establishing a body-worn camera program for the police department.
Ed Hamilton Rosales, a task force member and president of the Southwest Washington Council for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he recommends separating those two objectives. While unpacking the 84 recommendations in the program is vital work, he said, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to tie body cameras to that same timeline.
That two Black men were shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in the last few months has only made the issue more urgent, Hamilton Rosales added.
“The recent (spate) of killings, for lack of a better way of putting it, has escalated that conversation to multiple levels,” Hamilton Rosales said. “Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to bifurcate the program to be able to implement the body cams that everybody — including the chief — wants, while still taking a look at the PERF report.”
“I don’t guarantee we’re going to have the ability to do both at the same time moving forward,” Hamilton Rosales continued.
The city council agreed. While councilors pointed out that the work of a community task force ought to be left up to its members, deploying body cameras should be prioritized, councilors said.
“It feels very uncomfortable that we are in a sense adjusting the goals of the task force from the outside because of public pressure, but the public pressure is very real,” Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover said.
According to Holmes, Vancouver has already allocated $3 million for police reform. That funding would be available for the startup costs implementing body-worn cameras.
The city still needs to launch a competitive bidding process for camera vendors and continue its negotiations with the two unions that represent Vancouver police, Holmes added. At the soonest, the department could have a fully operational body-worn camera program by early 2022.
County prosecutors join the chorus
The task force’s report to the city council came just a few hours after Clark County prosecutors issued a letter announcing their support for body-worn cameras.
Earlier Monday, the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Action and Reform Committee and Prosecutor Tony Golik joined the group calling for cameras after sheriff’s deputies shot and killed two Black men in the last few months.
“A law enforcement agency that deploys body-worn cameras is making a statement that it believes the actions of its officers are a matter of public record. Doing so enables law enforcement agencies to demonstrate transparency and openness in their interactions with members of their communities,” the letter states.
Sheriff Chuck Atkins has said he also supports a camera program.