Kodiak police chief gives statement on discontinuation of body worn cameras

The Kodiak Police Department recently discontinued the use of video cameras attached to officers’ uniforms, and Police Chief Ronda Wallace gave a statement at Thursday’s Kodiak City Council regular meeting regarding the reasons for the change.

She said the KPD began the body camera trial program in 2015.

“Most officers liked wearing the cameras which did two things, gave visual facts as to an incident officers and citizens were involved in and accountability to the officers and citizens alike,” she said. “Officers were genuinely excited to have video recordings that corroborated their written reports in court and strengthened their ability to enforce our laws.”

It also helped her review officers’ interactions with members of the community and identify their strengths and weaknesses, Wallace said.

However, she explained certain challenges arose.

“For example, there were often technical failures or user errors that made it difficult to consistently rely on the equipment,” she said. “The cameras were slow to begin recording from the sleep mode, and although clipped onto an officer, they could easily be knocked off. And when the cameras were on, a button could be inadvertently depressed and turn off the volume and therefore no sound to the video.”

She said officers found the technical issues distracting.

Wallace also noted the potential privacy risks of body cams for the people that officers encounter.

“These individuals could be highly intoxicated, under the influence of controlled substances or otherwise behaving in a manner that’s not normal for them,” Wallace said. “People also contact the police to report extremely private matters that would devastate them if another person could obtain a high definition video of their statement.”

The videos may furthermore record people in the background who are uninvolved in the incident and do not wish to be captured on film, she said.

During citizens’ comments later in the meeting, members of the public had the chance to step up and share their thoughts.

Bonnie McWethy said she’d like the city to consider reinstating the body-cams. She quoted a Huffington Post article about a University of South Florida study which supports the use of body-cams in preventing use-of-force incidents.

“This evidence shows that the accountability of the body cameras keeps civilians and officers safer, and the officers deserve that, the civilians deserve that,” she said. “There are privacy issues, there are a technology issues here, and I think we can find solutions to those. Human safety is the priority here.”

Ginger Duncan also spoke and said she feels that eradicating the cameras would lead to a lack of transparency.

“I believe that, the cameras, we can find different models that work a little better,” she said. “It’s out there. The technology is there. I don’t like people prying into my space, looking at me, but when you’re out in the public, you are presenting yourself to the public and you should behave accordingly, and that goes for the officers too, and I feel like having those cameras in place will keep hold all parties accountable for their behavior.”

The City of Kodiak is currently handling two alleged police misconduct cases, one of which is an ongoing civil lawsuit claiming excessive use of force and involves video footage as evidence.

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