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Cowlitz County law enforcement propose body camera funding to meet state's January deadline

Body cams

Ferguson police Sgt. Dominica Fuller wears a body camera as she speaks during an interview in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015. 

Cowlitz County law enforcement departments are looking to purchase body cameras to adhere to a new state legislation that requires filming interrogations of juveniles and people involved in suspected felonies by 2022.

Longview and Kelso police departments, as well as the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, are starting preliminary discussions with their overseeing city or county councils to fund the devices by the January deadline.

Cameras

Body cameras can be clipped to officers’ uniforms or worn as headsets to record audio and video of interactions with the public. The new legislation specifically requires audio and video recordings of interrogations, performed at law enforcement facilities like jails, of juveniles or people involved in alleged felonies. Only audio recordings are required for those types of interrogations at other locations.

Longview Capt. Branden McNew said body cameras are the only practical solution to offer automatic transferal to a cloud system to manage recordings as evidence. He said uploading audio files from a cellphone after every recorded interaction would take too long.

In a statement to the Kelso City Council, Police Chief Darr Kirk said smartphones don’t have enough space to hold daily interrogation files and recordings could easily be interrupted by calls or texts. He said previous body camera bills did not pass the state legislature because a funding source could not be determined.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Washington received a one-time allocation from the state to cover legislative impacts from the 2021 session, when a sweeping law enforcement reform package was passed to make interactions between officers and the public safer. New laws include banning the use of chokeholds, no-knock warrants and military equipment.

Funding requests

McNew said he planned to propose a body camera software in a Thursday evening workshop to the Longview City Council. The council is not scheduled to vote on the request at its regular meeting.

In the agenda’s presentation, Longview police propose paying $218,810 for a contract with the company Motorola Solutions to provide 61 body cameras and mounts, as well as training, storage and video redaction services from 2022 through 2026.

McNew said he expects requests for the body camera footage to increase the department’s public records requests. The proposed software can automatically detect faces and license plates to blur if needed before release, he said.

The council report states Longview received $152,166 from the state to “offset costs generated by law enforcement and criminal justice related legislation.” The report states that after the five-year body camera contract, the service would cost $40,000 a year.

In a statement to the Kelso City Council, Kirk requested $15,000 a year for body camera software and storage. He also proposed upgrading a part-time employee to full time to manage the system and additional public records requests for footage. That employee would have a proposed annual salary of $50,820 and benefits totaling $35,880.

The council was set to discuss the request, but not take action, at the Sept. 7 meeting, however the meeting was canceled when four city council members walked out because the police were enforcing a state indoor mask mandate.

In a statement to the council, Kirk said the city received a one-time allocation of $49,000 from the state to cover “legislative impacts” from the 2021 session. With the state funds offsetting initial costs, Kirk requested a total of $52,700 in 2022 and $101,700 each year after.

Cowlitz County Sheriff Brad Thurman said the county’s allocation of state funds for legislative impacts likely will cover the majority of the program’s initial costs. He said the department has used cameras mounted to the deputy’s vehicle dashboards for roughly a decade.

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