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Sandy police test popular cameras

Police chief said implementation is a long way off

While police departments around the nation are beginning to look at implementing body cameras for its officers on the wave of President Obama’s announcement of a $75 million plan to help finance the equipment, the Sandy Police Department has been contemplating the addition in technology for quite some time.

However, it won’t be rushing in to issuing cameras to officers any time soon.

Sandy Police Chief Kim Yamashita said the department has been testing the equipment on and off for months. She said the tests began because she thought it made sense for the police department to have its own recordings of events.

“Everyone has cameras or phones capable of video recording what we do,” Yamashita said in an email. “I felt it was important that if police activity was going to be recorded by a citizen, witness or spectator, it was important that we record it also. Often times when someone else records our activity it is edited or seen only in bits and pieces. I felt it was important that we have a recording that would show an incident in its entirety.”

Once testing is complete and regulations are in place, every officer, including Yamashita, will be issued and expected to wear a camera.

Yamashita said they have been looking at and testing multiple types of cameras with different placements. Some attach to a hat or glasses; others would be on a collar or the officer’s shirt.

Most of the cameras are activated by the officer, but are equipped to time lapse record the 30 seconds prior to manual activation.

“That way whatever caught the officer’s attention or created the need to start the recording is also captured,” Yamashita said.

The police department will do a lot more testing before deciding on a specific model.

“We are a long way off from going live with cameras, unless of course there becomes a legal mandate to start a program sooner,” Yamashita said. “The reason for the deal has more to do with practice and procedures than equipment. There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed.”

She said the police department would need to determine storage of video and other logistics prior to implementing the technology.

“There are also privacy concerns and other legislative issues that need to be determined,” she said. “I think it is best for the state to make some legislative decisions on retention, use and other topics before we go live with our camera program.”

For now, the cost of a body camera program is undetermined due to variances between brands.

Yamashita said some come with subscriptions for data storage and retention tracking software, which are more expensive but may reduce the number of hours that Sandy Police personnel would spend doing those operations on their own.

“My intent is to ensure that our contacts with citizens are recorded, to protect both parties and to use as evidence in criminal proceedings,” she said.

Although the body cameras are being seen as a positive, they might have their drawbacks as well. Yamashita said citizens might be more leery of speaking with officers or reporting crimes if they know they are being recorded.

In addition, there are issues concerning the future if officers were to feel the cameras are being used against them during labor disputes.

“Fear that random videos could be reviewed by administration in an attempt to catch people doing wrong may be cause for concern,” Yamashita said. “However, my intent is not to use the camera as a ‘gotcha tool.’ “

City Manager Seth Atkinson echoed Yamashita’s declaration that this is a slow-moving project.

“We’re not going to give in to the political climate right now,” he said. “I’m pretty much going to be supportive of whatever the chief recommends for her staff.”

“I wasn’t motivated by political pressure as much as making sure that our officers are safe and protected,” Yamashita said. “I also am a fan of technology and think that we should use it whenever possible if it enhances our ability to be more efficient, effective and transparent.”

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