The first batch of body-worn cameras has been delivered to Lexington’s police department, which revealed details Thursday about how they will be used to record officers’ interactions with residents.
Some local groups have long advocated for the equipment that arrived amid continued fallout and increased tensions nationally from shootings of police officers in Dallas, Baton Rouge and elsewhere. Those shootings followed video recordings of police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana.
“This new equipment will enhance the level of public trust the police department has built with the community we serve,” Police Chief Mark Barnard said in a press release.
In the first round of the roll out, 75 officers will be issued Taser Axon body cameras after a training seminar in mid-August, according to a news release. The officers will be selected from each patrol sector and each shift along with some special operations units.
Once all camera shipments arrive in the coming weeks, 400officers will be equipped with cameras, according to the news release. The city is spending about $2.6 million on the 5-year contract with supplier Taser.
There will be a total of 800 cameras, with each officer issued two. One can charge while another is in use, Cmdr. Eric Lowe said. Lowe has managed the project since the department started looking into cameras two years ago.
“We’ve taken our time and done our homework, thoroughly researching camera equipment and policies,” Mayor Jim Gray said in the release. “We’ve learned from other police departments and organizations about best practices and mistakes to avoid. Now we’re ready to move ahead with a solid plan that will improve the safety of our city and its citizens.”
Officers will be required to activate their cameras for every law enforcement-related contact with citizens, whether officers are actively investigating or not according to the department’s new policy. The cameras will record pedestrian and vehicle stops, motorist assists, and calls for service at businesses or homes. In addition, officers must keep the cameras rolling any time they are operating their police vehicles with lights and sirens.
If officers are providing security for an event, festival or celebration, the cameras will not be turned on unless someone initiates contact with an officer or something happens that requires police action, Lowe said.
The cameras will “generally not be used to record while the officer is on break, communicating with another police department employee, or in a location where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a locker room or restroom,” according to the department.
In crafting the camera policy, the department consulted the NAACP, Lexington Human Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The NAACP has pushed for more than two years for Lexington to buy the new equipment. William Saunders, the president of the Lexington chapter, said Thursday that he’s thankful the cameras have arrived. Saunders said the NAACP will be watching how the cameras are used and will ask for changes to the body camera policy if problems arise.
“I do have some concerns with how long the data will be stored,” Saunders said. “I am also concerned if the cameras are tampered with or if something goes wrong, how will the officers be dealt with. Will there be repercussions?”
Ray Sexton, the executive director of the Lexington Human Rights Commission, which investigates discrimination complaints, said Thursday the commission thought the policy was forward-thinking and balanced.
“Obviously, it’s not going to be foolproof,” Sexton said. “They have anticipated a lot of problems and have done quite a bit of research.”
The commission does not investigate complaints against police officers. But Sexton said recently the commission lets staff help people who want to file complaints against officers. Those complaints go to the police’s public integrity unit.
Having commission staff help citizens navigate that process is just “another check and balance,” Sexton said.
The police department will be monitoring its own as well. The public integrity unit will conduct a monthly audit of randomly selected videos from the body-worn cameras, according to department. The original videos taken with the cameras cannot be edited.
“The biggest thing we think we’re going to get out of these body cameras is just establishing transparency with the community, to show them that we’re open,” Lowe said. “We have confidence that our officers are doing the right thing every day and this is just another opportunity to show the community what we’re doing.”
The cameras will improve officer’s investigations by allowing another method of recording evidence, Lowe said.
Recordings that are not part of an investigation will be kept for a minimum of 30 days, according to the department. Videos with evidence in an investigation will be retained until the criminal case has gone through court or the statute of limitations has passed.
The camera program was expected to roll out in June, but a delay occurred in part because of high demand for the company’s cameras.