Come February, every Colorado Springs police officer who interacts with the public will wear a camera to record those contacts.
Spurred by concerns over police brutality and a push for accountability nationwide, the Springs department wants to employ body cameras permanently following a six-month pilot project that ended in June and drew "generally positive" feedback from officers who wore six types of cameras.
Full implementation of the program means buying about 400 cameras and associated equipment, and hiring personnel to monitor and manage the video footage. Total cost: about $1.2 million, half of which would be funded with a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a division of the U.S. Justice Department. The city expects to hear within days if it will get the money, says Commander Pat Rigdon, chief of specialized enforcement, who oversees the program.
The city must match the grant, and Mayor John Suthers has included the $600,000 expenditure in his preliminary 2016 budget.
But the addition of body cams brings several questions. Among them: What rules should officers follow in using the cameras? How should video be stored and for how long? When should recordings be released to the public, or should they? Should officers have discretion in turning them on and off? When should officers be allowed to view the video prior to filling out reports or making a statement?
To answer those questions, the department will seek input from citizens via an online survey on its website and its Facebook page. But while "input from surveys is excellent," Rigdon adds that "ultimately we will look at best practices" across the country.
Another issue: video storage, which could become burdensome. During the pilot, cameras generated about 2.5 hours per day per camera. Increasing the number of cameras and requiring them to be turned on "whenever there was a likelihood of any kind of enforcement action, and remain on until the situation is under control" undoubtedly will create a mountain of data to be stored, Rigdon says. It's likely the city's request for proposals will seek solutions, which could include cloud storage, vendor management or on-site management, he adds.
Body-cams will be discussed by a panel comprised of Rigdon and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, public defender's office and TESSA, to represent victims' points of view, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at The Lodge at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Rigdon also says he's interested in the findings of a 15-member committee formed under HB 15-1285, which would create a grant program to help agencies buy cameras, train officers and manage the video data.
The committee is studying policies and best practices nationwide, and will report by March 1 regarding transparency, costs, privacy rights, redaction, data storage and manpower, according to Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, whose president, Steve Zansberg, serves on the panel.
Zansberg says he'll advocate for "the maximum amount of public access" to recordings made by cameras, noting that a primary goal is "to instill public confidence in the agencies and their officers," an objective that can't be realized unless the public has ready access.
Whatever the city's policy looks like, Rigdon says noncompliance won't be tolerated.
"There's going to be a learning curve," he says. "I can see we're going to have instances where cameras are not turned on. Over time, if that becomes a routine and repeated action by one individual, then certainly that could be looked at as a disciplinary issue."