Lexington will soon become the latest Kentucky city to equip its police with body cameras.
A $2.6 million, five-year contract with Taser for 800 body cameras is expected to be voted on at Thursday’s Urban County Council meeting.
If it gets final approval, the contract will provide two cameras each for 400 police officers who engage with the public. The first 100 or so officers should have the cameras by late June, Lexington police said Tuesday.
The awarding of the contract to Taser for the Axom cameras came after nearly three years of research by Lexington police, Assistant Police Chief Dwayne Holman told the council during a Planning and Public Safety committee meeting Tuesday.
Developing policies on how those cameras will be used, what to do with the stored video and how to deal with open records requests for that video took much longer than expected. Researching and awarding the bid to Taser was the easy part.
The policies were reviewed by the city’s lawyers, prosecutors, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, Holman said.
The department also visited other police departments, including Louisville and some in North and South Carolina that use body cameras, Holman said.
The cost is roughly $600,000 a year, Holman said. In addition, Mayor Jim Gray’s budget calls for money for a staff person to manage the body-worn cameras and for an assistant records custodian to help process requests for those videos.
No council member spoke against the proposal during Tuesday’s meeting. The council also supported $600,000 in the current year budget for body cameras.
Some on council questioned how long the department would have to store and hold onto the video.
Holman said if the footage is not evidence, state open records law allows the video to be destroyed after 30 days. If the footage is evidence in prosecution of a crime, how long the department will have to store the footage depends on the crime.
“For example, in a homicide, we are required to keep evidence forever,” Holman said.
Holman said storage is what drives up cost. Many police departments rushed into purchasing the cameras and did not account for storage costs. The $2.6 million, five-year contract will also pay for storage.
Kate Miller, program manager with the ACLU of Kentucky, said the group has reviewed Lexington’s proposed body camera policy and said it is mostly consistent with the ACLU’s recommendations on the use of those cameras. Miller said it’s not known how many police departments in Kentucky have purchased body cameras.
“When body cameras first became popular, we saw a lot of smaller police departments buying body cameras,” Miller said. “Many of the larger police departments had to wait because of the cost.”
Miller applauded Lexington for its policy that would prohibit a police officer from reviewing body-camera footage when there is a question about an officer’s conduct — such as use of force — before writing the report. Other police departments allow an officer to review the footage before writing their report. That can be problematic, Miller said.
Holman said the department’s body camera policy will be posted — along with all of its policies — on the department’s web site in coming months. Also the department will have a news conference and educational campaign once the cameras are in use in late June.