Colo. police plan to add grant-funded body-worn cameras this year

The equipment won't be available until the department reaches an agreement with the vendor


By Chhun Sun
The Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — If you're eager to see Colorado Springs police officers hit the streets with body-worn cameras, be patient.

Officers were supposed to begin wearing the equipment as early as April, but there have been setbacks.

Police officials started looking into the equipment about 18 months ago. Since then, the department landed a federal grant to buy the cameras and completed a pilot program.

Sixty-five officers in the department's Gold Hill division - covering the city's south and southwest neighborhoods - will be equipped with the cameras by late July, said Cmdr. Pat Rigdon, the program supervisor. The department expects to finish outfitting all 471 officers by October.

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The equipment won't be available until the department reaches an agreement with the vendor, who remains unnamed.

"The particular system that we are looking at has quite a bit more technological capability, so we want to make sure that our systems are ready to go and that the contract with the vendor is correct," Rigdon said. "This has simply taken a bit longer than anticipated. ... One thing that we want to make sure of is that the system will work as intended, so our citizens and officers don't have a negative experience with the product or the concept of body cameras as a whole."

In other words, there's no rush.

The technology is evolving and the department wants to make sure everything is in place, he said.

"I keep telling myself don't get too fast on this," Rigdon said, "because I think agencies across the country that implemented this very quickly and just passed out cameras and told their officers basically to go start using it, those are the ones that ran into a lot of problems with missing evidence, with missing videos - those kinds of things. We don't want that to happen here."

The cost of data storage and equipment maintenance led the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee to suspend its body camera program last month.

The Los Angeles Police Department stalled last month its plan to equip thousands of officers with body cameras, according to the Los Angeles Times. "This is too big to get wrong," Councilman Mitch Englander told the newspaper. "It's more important that we get it right and not just do it quickly."

Closer to home, the Fountain Police Department - the first regional law enforcement agency to take on the equipment - announced last month that it would switch to another system. Officials said about 1,400 videos with possible criminal complaints were not properly labeled, a process that required extra time from the officers.

However, Fountain Police Chief Chris Heberer said last week the department may stick with its vendor, Digital Ally Inc. He added that he hopes to have smartphones that would allow officers to input information at the scene using the current system.

The cost to switch to another system is $50,000. Heberer said if that happens, his department will have to start all over again, learning about the new camera and its operations.

"We're evaluating all options, but Digital Ally has been bending over backwards to help us get solutions, and we appreciate that," Heberer said.

The department may piggyback on CSPD's camera program, which last fall received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to buy 500 body-worn cameras. The department was required to match that amount to cover the first two years of the program.

Rigdon said his department is aware of the failures and successes of camera programs across the country. He hopes to combat any extra work with two video-evidence technicians, whose jobs include maintaining storage. Capturing images and audio is just the beginning of the system's use, he reiterated.

In December, the Denver Police Department provided 200 officers with cameras. This year, another 600 officers across the city and at the Denver International Airport will have the equipment, said Cmdr. Barb Archer in an email.

Colorado's largest force has one sergeant, four officers and one civilian to manage the body-worn camera unit. At the end of every shift, officers upload their recordings to evidence.com.

At this point, it doesn't appear the department is looking to expand personnel.

"Our data management has been manageable with our existing staff," Archer wrote. "As the program expands, we will evaluate the workload to determine if there is a need for additional personnel."

Rigdon said his department is looking at a system capable of uploading information from a scene and turning on by itself in certain situations, such as when an officer is knocked down or when a group of officers come together.

"We're going to run into some bumps in the road," he said. "It's probably not going go completely smooth right away, but I think that's why we're going to try to build in some time before we fully implement it, so we can identify some problems and we can work them out."

Copyright 2016 The Gazette 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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