Columbia Police officers to wear body cameras

Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 6:33 p.m. CDT; updated 1:19 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 25, 2014

*UPDATE: This story has been updated to include information about when the body cameras can be shut off.

COLUMBIA — Columbia Police Department officers soon will wear new body cameras to record their interactions with subjects and civilians.

The AXON body cameras, manufactured by TASER International Inc., were revealed at a public meeting Thursday afternoon. Assistant Police Chief John Gordon said all uniformed patrol officers will wear one while on duty beginning this week.

The small black cameras are about the size of a pack of cigarettes and will be worn visibly on officers' chests. They have 130-degree, wide-angle lenses, which have the potential to capture much of what in-car cameras miss during incidents, Gordon said.

The cameras will not be constantly recording, Columbia police spokeswoman Latisha Stroer said in an email. Officers will turn the cameras on and off manually.

Department policy mandates that on-duty patrol officers record all contact with citizens and not turn the camera off until citizen interaction is complete, Sgt. Robert Dochler said. This policy is subject to change.

"There are other instances when the continued recording of the camera will not be necessary, and the officer will be allowed to shut off the camera," Dochler said in an email. "Any time the recording is stopped and restarted during an official contact, (example using the restroom, having a short conversation or addressing issues not related to the particular case) the stoppage will be documented in the officer's report."

The Police Department has signed a three-year contract with TASER. The 102 cameras purchased by the department cost $110,000, including installation. The Police Department will also pay $40,000 a year for access to, a service for secure storage of video evidence.

The cameras and storage service will be paid for with savings from the 2012 budget, Gordon said.

The Columbia Police Department is the first department in Missouri to fully implement the use of body cameras. It is the largest implementation in the Midwest, Gordon said.

"We feel the cameras will help support our mission by providing additional evidence to support the prosecution, increase plea agreements, thus reducing the number of cases in the system, and provide a cost savings across the board for everyone involved," Gordon said.

The motivation for body camera use came from a need for accurate documentation of police interactions with the public.

"The cameras are valuable for warding off potential false complaints, and they provide accountability for officer's actions," Sgt. Dochler said.

The Police Department began testing the body camera technology in 2011, with two cameras tested by downtown units. In 2013, the department placed cameras on officers with different levels of experience and from different demographics for further testing. Select officers wore the cameras for six months.

The AXON body camera has a battery life of 12 hours, the standard shift length for Columbia Police Department officers. The cameras will be worn by all uniformed patrol officers, including traffic units and school resource officers.

Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.

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