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Camas police chief: Body cameras good for city, officers

Department first in Clark County to adopt system; training to be complete by end of April

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published:
4 Photos
Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey looks over a body camera at the charging station Thursday afternoon at the Camas Police Department. The department is beginning officer training in the new body-worn camera program.
Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey looks over a body camera at the charging station Thursday afternoon at the Camas Police Department. The department is beginning officer training in the new body-worn camera program. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Camas residents will soon notice the city’s police force outfitted with body cameras as the department begins training officers to use them by the end of April.

The Camas Police Department is the first Clark County law enforcement agency to implement a body-worn camera program. Chief Mitch Lackey had a camera affixed to his uniform Thursday as he talked about finalizing a five-year contract with the camera vendor Axon for about $311,000.

The camera attached to Lackey’s chest with a magnet, but he said there are other attachments the department’s 30 officers can use, depending on their uniform configurations. The contract with Axon includes the leased equipment, cloud storage for the videos and redaction services for public records requests.

Lackey is looking forward to getting the program rolling, he said, which he hopes will bolster community trust and demonstrate accountability. With other departments using body-worn cameras nationwide, Lackey said he believes the public is beginning to expect it of their local agencies, too.

“This will be good for the community. It will be good for the officers,” Lackey said. “There’s really no downside here — except that they can be expensive.”

He said he is proud of the city council for stepping up to grant his department the funding for the program, a reflection of the community’s support.

Lackey believes the cameras will also capture the “lion’s share of good work” the officers do, he said. He hopes to use the cameras as teaching tools to assist in training officers on different scenarios.

“If you can learn from someone else’s experience that maybe was not perfect, why would you not?” he said.

Lackey chose the Axon system after calling around to hear about the systems other agencies use or flaws they found in certain programs.

The Axon cameras come with a stun gun that has a sensor to trigger the camera to record if the officer draws it. The chief liked that feature, he said, because it means officers can prioritize safety over ensuring they’re recording. The fact that the vendor stores the footage for the agency was also a selling point, Lackey said, for a department of Camas’ size that can’t afford to invest in an in-house server system for the videos.

When officers dock the cameras on the chargers at the precinct at the end of their shifts, the videos upload to the storage system, Lackey said. Officers can then watch the videos they recorded and categorize them by the type of call to organize the data for the agency.

The cameras are always capturing video, without audio, in 30-second loops, and once an officer presses record, the previous clip will be added to the footage. Then the camera will pick up audio, too.

Lackey said the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office and the Kennewick Police Department are also using the Axon system. Staff from Camas will travel to Kennewick soon to learn more about the records storage and redaction program.

Camas will also hire an additional clerk devoted to handling the video records, he said.

Overall, officers are excited about the cameras, Lackey said, but some have expressed privacy concerns while they’re not responding to calls and are nervous about accidentally recording silly things.

Lackey knows it will take some getting used to for officers to remember to turn on the cameras when they arrive at a call, so he said they have a month of leniency to build the habit.

Next, Lackey said the agency intends to get cameras for patrol vehicles, but he said the body cameras were the first priority.

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