Police officers will begin wearing body cameras in Raleigh later this year, joining cities and towns across the country that started recording law enforcement interactions after some police-involved shootings sparked protests and calls for more accountability.
The City Council voted Tuesday to spend $4.74 million over three years to equip more than 600 Raleigh officers with cameras that will capture footage of arrests and interactions. The police department, which has about 800 officers, will start using the cameras sometime between March and June, Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said.
The council first approved the police department’s request for body cameras in March 2016. Deck-Brown said the department has spent months researching best practices and talking to the community.
On Tuesday, the council approved a three-year contract with WatchGuard, a Texas company that makes body-worn cameras and video footage storage systems. Deck-Brown said the relatively short contract will allow the city to re-evaluate the cameras as technology advances.
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The police department’s policy that sets rules and guidelines for the cameras could also change. Some groups, including the NAACP and ACLU, have criticized the policy, saying it doesn’t go far enough to empower the subjects of body-camera videos to view the footage.
The policy, which does not require approval from the City Council, says there will be a “presumption” that subjects will be allowed to see the footage, but there’s no guarantee. The department could decline to disclose recordings for any reason.
Deck-Brown said the language gives the department room to assess each incident on a case-by-case basis.
“I don’t have an answer for every single instance that could arise,” she said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to tie our department, the city or the community to words of that magnitude when you might end up with a completely different scenario that no one thought of, and now you’ve created a difficult circumstance for all parties involved.”
A 2016 state law signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory gave police departments full discretion in deciding who can see body camera footage. Under the law, recordings are considered investigative materials and are not public record.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also criticized Raleigh’s policy for allowing officers to view their body camera footage before creating an incident report. Raleigh police have been using car-mounted cameras for nearly 20 years, and the department already allows officers to review that footage.
Discussions about body-worn cameras for officers ramped up after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2015. Talks intensified in Raleigh after an officer fatally shot 24-year-old Akiel Denkins in February 2016.
But Deck-Brown said the department had been preparing a proposal for months, and a presentation was scheduled for the day Denkins was shot.
“The incident involving Akiel Denkins was not what prompted the need for body-worn cameras,” she said. “That was already on the council agenda. But I knew it would not be prudent or sensitive to our community or the department to go forward that Tuesday to council to present body-worn cameras when we’d just had an officer-involved incident. So we rescheduled for about a month later.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan