Police discuss potential body cams

BY BEN MARKS | AUGUST 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City police will possibly sport new equipment by the end of the year.

Earlier this year, the police began testing 11 body cams, and they are now nearing the end of the months-long evalu- ation period, designed to select what brand of body cams the depart- ment will use.

Police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said after the evaluation period ends on Friday, a committee will be tasked with se- lecting a vendor for the 84 cameras. After ordering, set up, and training, he said, he hopes the cameras will be ready to roll out by the end of the year. Gaarde is optimistic about the benefits of the future cameras and says although they are a significant invest- ment, they are worth it for the improvements it will bring to the de- partment as well as the community.

“[Body cams] are one of those tools that should be a safeguard for both the officers and the public, to know that there’s a level of trans- parency, that people are conducting business in a professional manner,” said Greg Buelow, a Ce- dar Rapids police pub- lic-safety coordinator.

Iowa City is not the only police force to look at, or purchase, body cams. Two years ago, the University of Iowa police became the first depart- ment in the county to equip every officer with body cams.

Although the police departments in Water- loo and Cedar Rapids have both looked at and tested a few models, nei- ther have any plans to purchase cameras in the upcoming year, mostly because of the cameras’ hefty price tag.

In fact, it is the large cost of the cameras that police departments most often cite as being the biggest drawback and restriction for them.

For Iowa City, depend- ing on the vendor the com- mittee chooses, the cost of the cameras could range anywhere from $200,000 to $600,000 over the first five years, Gaarde said.

Besides price, Capt. Joe Leibold, the Patrol Di- vision commander with the Waterloo police, sees another drawback to the cameras. “There are some unre- alistic expectations with the cameras, even with the car cameras, that they should capture ev- erything,” Leibold said. “It’s unrealistic to expect an officer to turn it on the minute they get shot at or are struggling for their life, the primal instinct is to survive, not turn on a camera.”

Creating new policy and protocol is also an is- sue when adopting body cameras. Coralville Police Chief Barry Bedford said the Coralville police have been evaluating body cameras since January and is now in the process of designing the regula- tions regarding their use.

“The actual trial pe- riod is over, and we’re now in the process of de- veloping a policy of how they’re used, how the information is stored, how long the informa- tion is stored, and how and when we would ba- sically dump the infor- mation,” Bedford said. “How long before we say ‘we don’t need this’ and make more room on the server?”

Despite these issues however, many depart- ments do find that the cameras are well worth the trouble. North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venenga said North Liberty has had all its patrol officers equipped with cameras since January.

“We’ve utilized them for quite a while now, and we’re pretty happy with them,” she said. “They’re not only a benefit to the officers, evidence collec- tion, memory recall, and testimony, it’s also benefi- cial to the community.”

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