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Nov. 26, 2022

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Vancouver police body-cams project ahead of schedule

Federal grant will offset costs for city

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

The city of Vancouver is expected to roll out its long-awaited camera initiative to strengthen trust between police and the public ahead of schedule after receiving a large grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Monday, the Vancouver City Council accepted the $1.5 million federal grant, which will be used to purchase cameras and accessories, software, infrastructure, data management and storage for the Vancouver Police Department. Without the assistance, the project wouldn’t be unfolding as quickly.

To keep the program on the fast track, council members on Monday also approved a contract with camera vendor, Axon Enterprises, Inc.

“We have arrived here at the point where this funding is in place for us to be able to move forward with the contract,” Assistant Police Chief Troy Price said. “We envision that this is just bringing us up to the standard that we should have been at a while ago, and that is a level of transparency with our public.”

The grant will be used in conjunction with $3 million the city of Vancouver previously committed to the program. All the equipment, training and storage services will cost nearly $5.5 million over five years, which also includes a discounted rate to upgrade electronic stun weapons.

Federal monies will not replace local funding for the project, rather it provides city leaders additional time to assemble a plan and budget for a longer-term program, according to a staff report.

Axon’s cameras automatically turn on when an officer activates the overhead light in their vehicle. The body cameras turn on when an officer removes a weapon from its holster.

Council members relayed their excitement for the project’s progress.

“I was able to go and meet with an officer and see (the cameras) in use and get a little test drive of the equipment,” Councilor Sarah Fox said. “I just heard nothing but good things about the ease of operation and the type of information that our officers will be able to derive.”

Yet Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober provided a reminder that the video from cameras are not a panacea.

“I’m going to say something that I said when we started this whole thing: Cameras are a point of reference. They are not truth,” he said.

During the testing and evaluation period, five officers wore Axon cameras and five law enforcement vehicles were equipped with front- and rear-facing cameras. The test began in July and lasted through Aug. 5. Vancouver officers also participated in a body cam pilot program in December with different equipment.

The Request for Proposal committee, comprised of two community members and staff from the City Attorney’s Office, the police department and the city’s Information Technology Department, endorsed the Axon equipment to the Executive Sponsor Committee on Aug. 15.

The order for the new technology will be placed shortly and, once received, will be fully implemented within about 90 days, said Kim Kapp, Vancouver police spokesperson. This timeline may be delayed if there are supply chain issues.

Despite Vancouver being Clark County’s most populous municipality, it wasn’t the first city to introduce a body-worn camera program. The Camas Police Department began using this body-worn technology toward the end of April.

However, there are several features in Vancouver’s program that resulted in a longer process to get to this point, such as including cameras in interview rooms and vehicles, Kapp said.

Councilor Eric Paulsen said that, although there were some project delays, Vancouver is still the first to deploy a comprehensive program in the community.

“This is one of those issues that was essential that we get right rather than fast,” Paulsen said.

The public rallied for improved police transparency and accountability from the police department following four Vancouver police shootings in 2019, three of which were fatal.

These incidents led the city of Vancouver to request the Police Executive Research Forum, a third-party organization, to assess the department’s operations. In June 2020, they returned with 84 recommendations to the police department’s training and protocols, which included having a camera program.

“I just want to remind everyone why we got here in the first place,” Councilor Diana Perez said. “I look forward to it being at a point where we can continue to work on trust (and) continue to work on improving our officers’ ability and training and our overall safety.”

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