NEWS

Iowa City Police seek approval for 84 body cameras

New equipment would help document police interactions

Iowa City Police downtown beat officer Dave Schwindt wears a VIEVU wearable video camera as he patrols the Pedestrian Mall Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 in downtown Iowa City. Earlier this year, the Iowa City Police Department used funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant to purchase 11 body cameras for officers. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)
Iowa City Police downtown beat officer Dave Schwindt wears a VIEVU wearable video camera as he patrols the Pedestrian Mall Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 in downtown Iowa City. Earlier this year, the Iowa City Police Department used funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant to purchase 11 body cameras for officers. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Police Department is requesting approval to purchase 84 body cameras, enough for each officer in the department to have one.

The Iowa City Council will consider the request to spend $211,000 for the digital cameras and a data storage system when it holds its regular meeting Tuesday. The cameras are worn on officers’ chests to record interactions with the public.

“It was a trend even before Ferguson hit, but since Ferguson, this issue is on everyone’s mind,” Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine said, referring to last month’s fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that sparked national outrage.

Police tactics have come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the Ferguson shooting, and camera recordings could help document events that dashboard cameras miss.

An information packet for Tuesday’s meeting indicates a preference for Body-Worn Digital Camera System and Storage Solution through a vendor called Wolfcom Enterprises of California.

Hargadine said that vendor is not locked in, and he may hold off on the purchase until after a conference next month where the latest technology will be on display.

Iowa City has been using in-car recording devices since the mid-1990s and began testing 11 body cameras last year. This spring, well before the Ferguson shooting, Iowa City police began the process to buy body cameras for the entire department.

Hargadine said the body cameras, which are activated manually by tapping on the device, will help fill in the gap when officers leave the police cruiser, or for foot or bike patrols.

Sean Curtin, an Iowa City activist on law enforcement and civil liberties issues, has concerns about whether the cameras would be activated in dicey situations and whether they would curb questionable tactics.

“My concern at this point is that the body cameras might be used as political cover for bad behavior and I am skeptical they would bring about the fundamental reform people really want,” Curtin said.

However, Hargadine disagrees, saying the cameras help establish evidence and enhance accountability. Often complaints against the department are rescinded after the complainants see the video evidence, he said.

“Videos don’t do everything, but it is an accounting of who said what,” Hargadine said. “It’s cleared more officers of allegations than it’s ever proven wrongdoing.”

Hargadine said he hopes to have the new cameras in action by year’s end, but he noted police departments around the nation are placing orders, so supply issues could cause delays.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that there’s a run on this technology because everyone is getting this,” he said.

The cost breakdown for a package through Wolfcom is $163,000 for the Body-Worn Digital Camera System, $38,000 for storage and $10,000 for preparation. The purchase will be funded by the asset forfeiture program, Hargadine said.

One issue that could arise from increased digital recordings is how to store all the data, he said.

“The toughest part of it isn’t what camera to buy, it’s what to do with all that video,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.