The Wichita Police Department is still waiting on the federal funding needed to buy the rest of its body cameras, but already, about half the officers, 218, are outfitted with the equipment and using them on the streets.
All officers from Patrol North and East now have a body cam, except supervisors who don’t often deal with the public. At Patrol South and West, only 18 officers have body cameras. The rest are in limbo until the $250,000 federal grant from the Office of Justice comes through.
“So when an officer gets a camera, it is digitally marked with a serial number,” said Captain Brian White, WPD’s project manager.
Each body cam also comes with its own battery and charging station so there’s no mistaking which officer shot the video. As for when the cameras roll, White says officers never shut them off until the end of their shift.
“You’re recording the whole time,” said White. “You’re just not saving it until you hit this button twice, and you get the previous 30 seconds.”
When to save that video is outlined in the WPD policy unveiled in October 2015. It includes several potentially volatile situations, like serving search warrants or making an arrest, but also when an officer is not on a call, and a casual conversation turns serious.
“What the policy says, as soon as the situation changes,” said White. “Sometimes you’re involved in a conversation and then all of a sudden, it becomes adversarial. That’s when the officer has to click it on.”
The body cam is usually worn on the officer’s glasses to capture exactly what he/she sees and hears during a traffic stop or criminal incident. But if the glasses need to be removed, for example when the officer goes indoors, the camera can be moved to a shirt collar or shoulder.
At the end of their shift, officers download and categorize the saved video into an online storage site, Evidence.com. Traffic stop video is kept for two years, felony crimes for 10 years, and rapes and homicides indefinitely.
If an officer is involved in a deadly use of force, he/she cannot watch the video from that incident until an investigator interviews them.
“Sometimes you may make decisions based on your perception of what reality was, and that may not be accurate,” explained White.
As for what the public is allowed to see, body cam video involved in a criminal case will usually not be released, except to the defendant.
If it’s NOT a criminal case, like a traffic stop, anyone can get a copy by requesting it through the WPD Body-Worn Camera Records Section. Video that may lead to a complaint against an officer can be requested through the Professional Standards Bureau.
A person involved in a minor incident can even ask an officer at the scene to display the video on a hand-held device they carry, but officers are not required to do so.
“This way I can play back the video and say this is exactly what I saw,” said White. “If you have a minor complaint, you can settle it right there.”
Not only does the video stop some disputes before they start, White says just knowing there’s a camera on affects everyone’s behavior-police and the public. And if the worst case scenario does happen, body cams could be the key to knowing what really happened.
“They (officers) may never get involved in a shooting situation,” said White. “When it does occur, we want the best evidence, we want the best information.”
Related Document | Wichita Police Department Policy Manual on body cameras
When are videos saved?
- Vehicle and pedestrian investigative detentions and stops
- Observed unlawful conduct
- Use of force
- High-risk situations
- Advising an individual of Miranda rights
- Statements made by suspects, victims or witnesses
- Vehicle searches
- K-9 deployments
- Physical arrest of persons
- Observed items in a criminal investigation of evidentiary value
- Service of a search warrant
- An encounter initiated by a private person (flagged down)
- Any contact that becomes adversarial after initial contact that would not otherwise require recording
- Any other circumstances where the officer believes recording an incident would be appropriate when directed by a supervisor
- Surveillance when the suspect is observed
How long are videos saved?
- 90 Days:
- No Action / Miscellaneous
- 2 years:
- Field Interview
- Incident Report / non-criminal
- 3 years:
- Misdemeanor Investigation / Arrest
- 10 years:
- Felony Investigation / Arrest
- Use of Force
- Homicide / Death Investigation
- Deadly Use of Force
- Based on Category:
- Pending Review
- Administrative Investigation
Police body cameras in action
- 1/5/16: (Las Vegas) Body camera shows police shooting unarmed suspect
- 10/8/15: Body camera clears Cleveland police in shooting
- 3/14/15: (Utah) Dramatic video shows rescue of Utah infant from car in river
- 1/29/15: Police body cameras are a matter of record