Police work is often chaotic when lives or someone’s well-being, including the officer’s, are at risk and split-second decisions are made – all according to policy.
Writing down what happened comes later, when an officer completes an incident report and may detail in a separate form how force was used to control someone resisting officers.
An important tool in recording in real time what happened is the Coban camera mounted on a police officer’s cruiser, although police officials say because it’s mounted in a stationary position, it doesn’t record everything.
Nor can it pick up nuances, such as the tensing of someone’s body, said Tukwila Police Chief Mike Villa.
Still, “a lot of times that video will exonerate the officer,” said Villa, when it’s reviewed in investigating a use-of-force complaint, along with an officer’s incident report.
A review of a video can also help officers determine whether they have probable cause to arrest someone.
Now, the Tukwila Police Department is taking another step in using recording equipment at crime scenes as well as more routine investigations.
Five Tukwila officers are wearing body cameras in a pilot program that began in early June. How to pay for body cameras for Tukwila’s 76 commissioned officers is still being worked out as part of the city’s budget process, but Villa would like to deploy them by Jan. 1.
The city would use a bidding process to purchase the cameras.
The police department has a draft policy that details under what circumstances an officer should activate the camera. The department is working with the Tukwila Police Guild to develop the policies.
The department will continue to review the policies during the pilot program to make sure they work before the final ones are adopted. “We want to have a policy that we can all agree on. I don’t anticipate any problems there,” Villa said.
One policy issue is when do officers turn on the camera? The department won’t ask that officers turn on the cameras all the time when they are working, he said. The policies outline whether an officer should turn off the camera when requested to do so by a resident.
The camera will not be used to record breaks or other personal activities.
Officer Dean Kolstad is one of the five officers testing the body cameras. He likes the camera, although it’s going to be one more thing to remember to do when he arrives on scene, he said.
“But the plus side is the opportunity to see exactly what you saw again or maybe things that you didn’t see that were right in front of you,” he said.
The public and command staff also will get a different point of view, he said. “As the public is probably aware, it’s not always what the news puts out or what the victim or witness even sees.”
What the officer sees is completely different, he said, and the camera “will help capture that point of view.”
The camera, which records video and audio, sits on an officer’s chest and the most prominent feature is the circular on/off button in the middle.
The camera always records a 30-second loop that could capture important information before an officer pushes the record button.
“You have to activate it anytime you are doing your police duty,” Kolstad said, including traffic stops.
The video is downloaded to a mobile device. The equipment and training is being provide at no cost by Taser International.
Chief Villa said the videos from the cameras are stored in the cloud, which means the Police Department doesn’t need a dedicated server or space in another server for them. That’s not the case for other providers.
The quality of the video isn’t the same as a television, especially when it’s enlarged on a computer screen, Kolstad said.
It might not catch sudden movements or facial expressions.
“It’s just going to give basically the up-close, face-to-face contact that the officer gets and that the in-car camera is not going to get from being out on the street,” he said.
The camera will go inside someone’s home or into a building for a search or look into a driver’s window during a traffic stop, just like the officer.
“It’s going to alleviate complaints,” Kolstad. “Let’s say that someone complains that an officer is rude or something, unbecoming. If the officer didn’t do anything wrong, then this is going to show that.”
The camera on his chest hasn’t changed the way Kolstad answers a call nor does he feel as if a superior is looking over his shoulder.
“Putting this on I haven’t noticed a difference in the way that I act or things that I say, because I honestly do the same thing every time I contact somebody, whether a commander is standing next to me or the chief or a drunk citizen,” he said.
BELOW: Tukwila Police Officer Dean Kolstad stands by his patrol car, while wearing his gear including the body cameras he and four other officers are testing as part of a pilot program. Dean A. Radford, Tukwila Reporter