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Metro plans pilot body camera test in early 2014

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Updated: 10/13/2013 3:21 pm
By Jackie Valley
LAS VEGAS SUN

LAS VEGAS -- Four hundred Metro Police officers soon will add an extra gadget to their ensemble: on-body cameras, a long-discussed endeavor department leaders call the wave of the future.

A pilot program based in two area commands, one in the northeast valley and another in west Las Vegas, will launch by February, department officials said.

The initiative, however, comes with a compromise meant to appease the police union: It’s a voluntary program, except for officers hired after July 11. They will be required to wear the cameras.

“I don’t want to go to court,” Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie said, explaining the rationale behind the compromise.

The department is waiting to receive bids from vendors before choosing a system, but officials expect the pilot program to cost $1.5 million, covering cameras and the related technology infrastructure, which includes video storage.

The National Institute of Justice has awarded a grant to Metro that will pay for 200 cameras, plus an academic study looking at the effect of officers using on-body cameras, said Capt. Tom Roberts, who heads the Office of Internal Oversight. The department will buy another 200 cameras, bringing the total to 400 during the pilot.

For the past year and a half, Metro has conducted field tests on a variety of cameras while assessing features and functionality, Roberts said. For instance, police want the cameras mounted on officers’ shoulders or ears for the best vantage point.“The advantage of it being on the head somewhere is the camera sees what the officer is seeing,” Gillespie said.

Officers wearing cameras would be required to record any interaction with the public, whether it’s a car stop or arrest, Roberts said. The video then would be categorized to identify what it captured, so it could be used as evidence or for an internal review.

A committee — made up of representatives from the department, District Attorney’s Office and Las Vegas Police Protective Association — is creating related policies, such as how long video should be kept and under what circumstances it could be released to the public, Roberts said.

“It’s a lot of uncharted territory for law enforcement,” he said. “That’s why, over the next few months when we go to deploy it, we really need to get our ducks in a row and set our policy, think ahead to some of the pitfalls that could happen.”

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada, said he expected the footage to protect officers from erroneous complaints, but he also believes the department has a responsibility to release any video of questionable police actions, such as officer-involved shootings.

“We believe that the use of cameras is important to avoid the kind of he-said, she-said situation,” Lichtenstein said. “When there is a controversy, then (video) is verification of what is going on … The actions of the police need to come under more scrutiny.”

Department supervisors conducting random reviews of footage isn’t out of the question, either, Roberts said.

Aside from evidentiary purposes, Roberts said the camera footage would be instrumental in speeding up reviews of use-of-force incidents and other internal investigations. The department is looking at the average length of time it takes citizens to lodge complaints against officers, so they can accommodate that period and add a cushion to it, he said.

“I think the behavior of everybody is stepped up a notch” with the cameras, Roberts said. “The result would be less use of force, less complaints, more compliance. There are a variety of benefits to it.

”Gillespie predicted about 80 percent of officers eventually would volunteer to wear the cameras. He already has received inquiries, particularly from traffic officers.

The NAACP Las Vegas and ACLU of Nevada recommended the pilot program include the Northeast and Bolden area commands because of their higher minority populations and past history of officer-involved shootings, Gillespie said.

Metro has not determined when the program would be spread departmentwide, partially because of the expense, officials said. Roberts said the cameras would be incorporated in all types of department training, though.“Once you get used to using it … it becomes habit,” he said.
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