Derby, Kan., PD Outfits School Resource Officers with Body Cameras

The pilot project with school resources officers will help the department determine whether it will outfit all officers with the technology.

by Matt Riedl, The Wichita Eagle / December 28, 2015 0
Shelby County Sheriff's Department SRO Joseph Fox displays the department's new body cameras that officers are now wearing on Oct. 15, 2014, at Southwind High School in Memphis, Tenn. Stan Carroll/The Commercial Appeal/TNS

(TNS) --The Derby, Kan., Police Department will spend about $7,400 to outfit its four school resource officers with body-worn cameras in early 2016, according to Police Chief Robert Lee.

The cameras, which will likely be worn on the lapel, are part of a pilot project for Derby, which is considering outfitting all 47 of its officers with body-worn cameras, Lee said.

The department will solicit bids from vendors in January and anticipates that the school resource officers will be equipped by March at the latest, Lee said. The pilot project is expected to last a year.

“Cameras are a good thing for law enforcement,” Lee said. “I have no issues with cops having cameras – none at all. It’s a matter of affording them; it’s a matter of how to store them.”

In the summer, Derby’s school resource officers work regular patrol beats. That experience, in addition to recorded interactions in Derby schools, will help the department decide whether it wants to invest further in the technology, Lee said.

According to estimates the department received in 2014, outfitting all of its officers with body-worn cameras and buying server space for the first several years of footage would cost around $170,000, Lee said.

“$170,000 for a smaller department is a lot of money,” he said. “That’s something city leaders will have to make a decision on at some point, whether they want to invest in that or not.”

The Derby Police Department has a history of being “ahead of the curve” in upgrading its policing technology, Lee said. When he became police chief in 2009, he said all 14 Derby patrol cars were equipped with in-car cameras.

The department previously experimented with body-worn cameras around 2010, when it tested them with its school resource officers, Lee said. Those cameras no longer operate and are off warranty, he said.

“Those cameras served a purpose but they simply just weren’t all that durable,” he said. “There wasn’t the emphasis on body-worn cameras back then that there is today.”

The Wichita City Council in July approved spending $2.2 million to outfit every Wichita police officer with a body-worn camera that would be mounted around the officer’s temple. The goal was to outfit every officer by the end of 2015, but the department recently announced that project would continue into 2016 because federal funding had not yet come in.

Lee said the Derby Police Department is developing its body camera policies – deciding when footage could be released and how long it will be stored if it is not evidence in a court case.

“Anything that’s recorded on there, obviously an open records request could be made for,” Lee said. “Some of it would be open records accessible, some would not.

“We’d have to go through it and make a determination if it’s all open records available or if some of it is not. We’ll handle that on a case-by-case basis.”

One of Lee’s primary concerns, he said, is that most body-worn cameras available today require the officers to activate them manually.

“In a tense situation that happens quickly, there is a possibility that officer’s going to forget to turn that camera on,” he said. “That’s always going to cause some concern – whether that failure to activate it was truly an accident or if it was intentional.

“I think you’re going to see more body-worn cameras that automatically activate in the future.”

The department will also decide whether lapel-worn or head-mounted cameras – like those worn by Wichita police – are more effective.

“If you’re not used to glasses, to have something weighted on one side of a pair of glasses probably isn’t a comfortable way to spend your shift, but it’s effective nonetheless,” Lee said. “We’re going to try to find where it’s comfortable for the officer wearing it an entire shift.”

If the Derby Police Department and the Derby City Council decide to move toward outfitting all 47 officers with cameras, it would not be until at least 2017. The funding would come from the 2018 budget year, Lee said.

“Accountability and transparency are huge issues right now, and quite honestly the public has every right to have very high expectations of their police,” Lee said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.

“We just need to have something in place that begins to explore what technology is out there to enhance that. If that’s going to be body-worn cameras, we will make the best selection we can based off the pilot project.”

©2015 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.