(TNS) — Body cameras became part of the uniform for about 30 downtown Honolulu and Chinatown patrol officers this week as the Honolulu Police Department officially joined the ranks of other large American cities.
"Today's the first day," District 1 patrol Sgt. Henry Roberts said at a media briefing on the rollout Monday morning.
The cameras, which capture audio and color video, are turned on and off at the discretion of officers, who are supposed to activate their cameras every time they have an encounter with a member of the public or are dispatched to a call, said HPD Maj. Rade Vanic of HPD's information technology division. Officers are supposed to immediately notify a supervisor if they fail to make a recording and then document it in an incident report.
When worn by an officer, the cameras are continually recording a 30-second loop that is constantly being overwritten. When an officer twice taps the center of the device, that 30-second "pre-event buffer" is retained and the camera records from that point until it is turned off.
"Overall, it's a good thing," Sgt. Roberts said. "It helps us with transparency."
Within two years HPD hopes to issue 1,200 body cameras across Oahu to all uniformed patrol officers who have regular contact with the public, said Vanic. While a majority of HPD's 2,000 officers eventually will have to wear body cams, others won't -- including detectives and uniformed officers who don't deal with the public, Vanic said.
Under HPD's body camera policy written last year, officers have broad discretion.
Officers are not required to disclose that a recording is underway -- or play back a recording to the public. But HPD policy gives officers leeway to ask victims of a crime -- or someone reporting a crime anonymously -- if they want a recording to be discontinued.
For example, they are not required to begin recording when dealing with victims of sexual assault, child abuse or child pornography; or if making a recording would risk the safety of a witness, according to the policy.
Officers also are not supposed to turn on their body cams in places where a "reasonable expectation of privacy exists," such as locker rooms, dressing rooms and restrooms, unless they're actively involved in an investigation, arrest or search.
At the end of each shift, officers are responsible for categorizing each type of incident they've recorded, Vanic said.
HPD officers are not allowed to delete any recordings without a written request to HPD's administrator of the body cam program that specifies a reason for deleting a recording, according to the policy.
In general, recordings are supposed to be kept for 13 months but can be retained longer depending on the statute of limitations of a crime, until the final disposition of a court proceeding or until a court order is lifted, for example.
HPD policy specifically requires recordings to be stored for at least three years following any use of force or any encounter that leads to a complaint or administrative investigation.
HPD officers are now responsible for following body cam procedures and face discipline if they don't, Vanic said.
The cameras are high-definition Axon Body 2 cameras, made by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Axon, the new name of Taser International.
"The quality's real good," said HPD patrol officer Joelyn DeCaires, who displayed her new gear to reporters Monday at Tamarind Park downtown.
HPD Chief Susan Ballard previously said the department budgeted $2.5 million for the body cam program -- including purchase of the cameras -- for fiscal 2018, which began in July. Vanic said Monday that $1.5 million annually has been budgeted just for data storage.
As of 2015, 95 percent of America's large police departments were either using body cams or had committed to having officers wear them.
Monday's rollout in District 1 follows a 30-day pilot program also with officers working the area that runs from Aala Park to Washington Middle School.
Over the next two years, HPD will add body cams to the rest of District 1 through October, then expand to officers in Waikiki, East Honolulu and Kapolei before encompassing the rest of the island.
In addition to HPD, Axon said its cameras are now worn by officers in the Chicago Police Department, Waco (Texas) Police Department, Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport Police and Milwaukee Police Department, among others.
BY THE NUMBERS
>> 30: Approximate number of Honolulu Police Department officers in HPD's District 1 second watch who began using body cams Monday.
>> 1,200: Number of uniformed patrol HPD officers who will be assigned body cams in the next two years. Detectives, uniformed officers who do not have contact with the public and others will be excluded.
>> 2.5 million: Amount of money budgeted for the body cam program -- including purchase of the cameras -- for fiscal 2018, which began in July.
>> 95: Percentage of America's large police departments that were either using body cams or had committed to using them as of 2015.
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