LMPD postpones rollout of officer-worn cameras - WDRB 41 Louisville News

LMPD postpones rollout of officer-worn cameras

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An example of a how a camera can be worn, modeled by a Bullitt County Sheriff's Deputy. An example of a how a camera can be worn, modeled by a Bullitt County Sheriff's Deputy.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Louisville Metro Police has delayed plans to outfit officers with “body” cameras as it decides how best to store massive amounts of data.

The department's most recent strategic plan called for one-fourth of all patrol officers - or roughly 225 people - to be wearing the cameras by July 1, but that deadline wasn't met. Police also have scaled back the number of officers who will receive the first cameras to less than 100.

“What we found out after talking to several different police departments was the biggest issue we're going to have is: Where do you store [the video]? And once we started looking at that, we had to put the brakes on it,” said Lt. Col. Ozzy Gibson, Louisville's assistant chief.

Gibson said LMPD had roughly $150,000 set aside for 75 cameras and related costs in the department's budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That amount was based on “preliminary” storage costs for the camera program that later approached $1 million a year, police said.

Around that time, Gibson said, youth violence at Waterfront Park and downtown led to calls for increased surveillance. Police then shifted the body-camera funds to help buy and interpret data from cameras at Waterfront Park's Big Four Bridge, he said.

“Regardless of what happened in March and the direction we took economically to do something different with the money, we still would not have (body) cameras because we are still not where we want to be,” Gibson said.

Gibson and Maj. Robert Schroeder of LMPD's administrative services division said they plan to meet soon with Metro Technology Services about storing the data in Louisville, rather than on a “cloud” system.

“With some of the revisions that are coming down and the possibility of doing it internally – it may be much cheaper,” Schroeder said, although he declined to provide an estimate.

Police use of the cameras has been thrust into a national debate over public safety since Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown earlier this month. The events leading to Brown's death remain disputed.

But since Brown's death, advocates and police officials alike have pushed for outfitting officers with the cameras. As of Friday afternoon, more than 140,000 people had signed a federal petition seeking a “Mike Brown Law” that would require cameras on all state, county and local police officers.

Officers in Louisville's Fifth Division, which includes the Highlands and Crescent Hill, will receive the first batch of cameras, according to LMPD. While storage concerns haven't been settled, Gibson said he expects those cameras will be in use within six months.

Police then plan to distribute the cameras to other divisions, ultimately outfitting all of the 1,200-person department's 900 patrol officers. There is no timeline for buying and distributing the cameras, but Gibson said police “feel confident” that routine drug forfeiture funds will cover the costs of the cameras and storage.

The cameras would be attached to glasses or a baseball cap, allowing the recordings to follow an officer's field of vision, police said.

“It's an interesting, new emerging technology,” said Kate Miller, program director for the ACLU of Kentucky. “Generally the ACLU is pretty skeptical of increased surveillance through cameras, particularly when it's done by the government.”

“But body cameras on police officers are pretty unique in the sense that it provides us, the public, with an opportunity for police accountability and for government transparency – and it provides police with the opportunity to defend themselves if they're accused of something they didn't do.”

Miller said the use of the cameras must be accompanied by “strong policies and practices.”

Louisville police have yet to set a formal policy governing the cameras, including how long data will be kept and whether officers must only record “enforcement-related” work or every minute of a shift, Schroeder said.

There are also privacy issues that aren't yet resolved. For example, are videos taken in people's homes subject to open records laws?

“Does your neighbor have the right to know that?” Schroeder said. “… That's still a pretty unaddressed area of law, so there's not a lot of legal guidance on that.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation found in a report released last year that the number of complaints against officers declined after officers in Rialto, Calif., were equipped with the cameras.

"The findings suggest more than a 50 percent reduction in the total number of incidents of use of force compared to control conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens' complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment,” the report found.

Several Kentucky police departments, including the Bullitt County Sheriff's Department, have outfitted their officers with cameras.

In western Kentucky, the Russellville police department's 14 patrol officers began wearing cameras on their uniforms in April 2013. Officers turn on their cameras “any time they contact the public,” Chief Victor Shifflett said.

“We haven't had a decrease in complaints yet,” Shifflett said. “I feel that we will as more people are made aware of it.”

Russellville police solved their storage issue by building a server to store the data, which is kept for 90 days unless a video is “flagged” because it captured an arrest or is involved in a court case.

Shifflett said no one has asked for copies of police videos through an open records request, but he said he considers the videos to be part of official investigations and not public records.

The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers hasn't taken an official position on the cameras, but president and Frankfort attorney J. Guthrie True said he believes most attorneys probably favor the technology.

“I think you'd find that we are generally in favor of anything that does a better job in preserving the best evidence—and that is what actually happened,” he said.

“It's a two-edged sword,” said Jim Pendergraff, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police. “The officer can't commit any kind of misconduct or it's going to show that also.”

“It's a good tool. What we're after is the truth - wherever it falls.”

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