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Wash. Cities Adopt Body Cameras After New Law Takes Effect

Police departments across the Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland) in Washington have inked deals with Axon to get body cameras. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of body cams.

Up close body camera
(TNS) — Police agencies across the Tri-Cities are rolling out body cameras in response to a change in Washington state law that took effect this month.

Kennewick and Richland police along with Benton and Franklin county sheriff's offices each signed multi-year contracts with Axon to get body and dash cameras, as well as new tasers.

The new state law requires interviews with suspects in felony crimes or juveniles to be recorded. While the law only requires audio recordings in many cases, police agencies across the Tri-Cities decided to begin using video as well.

It's a change for most of the Tri-City police agencies, which have resisted putting the cameras in place either because of the cost or because they didn't feel like they were needed.

But Pasco adopted the technology starting with a pilot program in 2016, and fully rolled it out in 2019.

The agency has found success using the footage to investigate complaints and sharing video for items of community interest including complaints circulating on social media or rescues made by officers.

Kennewick police Lt. Jason Kiel said the new cameras will make sure people can see the good work that police officers do.

He pointed out that Chief Ken Hohenberg says that trust is not built on technology but on daily interactions.

"That idea is not going to change," Kiel said. "The body-worn cameras are going to capture those interactions."

Kiel's sentiment was echoed by other agencies that believe that this will show their officers doing what they should.

Richland police supported of adding body cameras before the new law, and Sgt. Shawn Swanson.

"We're 100 percent in support of it," he said. "It's been a long time coming."


The law is part of a host of reforms put into place following a series of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. They included changes to how police chases were handled and when police can stop people.

Supporters of the measure point out that while confessions are often recorded, the interrogations leading to them were generally not. They were concerned that the methods used to get those confessions were aimed at wearing suspects down, according to a report on the bill.

"In Washington, one out of every four wrongful convictions that have been overturned involved a false confession," according to the bill. "Even when people who are wrongfully convicted are later exonerated, their lives have already been irreversibly damaged."

Nationwide, opinions on the effectiveness of body cameras are mixed.

A 2017 National Institute of Justice study in Las Vegas found that officers wearing the cameras had fewer complaints and used less force than their counterparts without the cameras.

However, a Washington, D.C., study from the same year found body cameras made no difference in when or how force was used.

While Washington state police agencies found body cameras to be the easiest way to comply with the law, it wasn't a requirement, and the state didn't provide money for it.

The costs for the contract with Axon range from $1.3 million to $1.5 million over a five-year contract.

In Benton County's case they were able to use money from the Public Safety Sales Tax to cover part of the costs.


Each of the departments has a slightly different description of when the cameras will be activated, but they share some similarities.

If an officer is responding to an emergency, the camera will start filming. They also will turn on if the officer's gun or Taser is drawn.

Within each of the departments, if one officer's camera turns on at a scene, then the cameras for other officers also will activate.

In addition, the video footage will be stored in an Axon server, where it can't be altered.

Investigators will be able to make copies of the original to attach to their reports. The videos will be able to be used in prosecutions, said Benton County sheriff's Lt. Jason Erickson.

Another useful addition is that witnesses will be able to send in pictures and video directly to the cloud through a link provided by the officer.

That will eliminate the need to figure out how to download the video, and then get it to the officer either electronically or on a USB drive. Now, people will simply be able to send it in, and it will attach directly to the case.

Benton County deputies and Kennewick police are already wearing the cameras, and Richland police are in the process of rolling out the equipment. They plan to have cameras on all officers by the end of month.

Delays in supplies have meant the dash cameras bought for patrol cars as part of these deals have not arrived yet.

That also is delaying the roll out for the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, said Sheriff Jim Raymond. They plan to have the cameras ready by March.

"I have no desire to piecemeal the process," Raymond said. "It's more important that all deputies have all necessary equipment and training before implementation from my viewpoint."

©2022 Tri-City Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.