LIMA — It’s official. Body cameras have arrived.
As of Monday, all street-level officers within the Lima Police Department, including park rangers, have been equipped with body-worn cameras meant to provide increased visibility to interactions between officers and the wider public.
Chief Kevin Martin said the department was aware of the frustration felt by Lima residents concerning the 18-month-long selection and purchasing process, but due to the initiative’s importance and the $485,000 price tag, Martin said the department wanted to make sure due diligence was given to the body camera rollout.
The final product, manufactured by Texas-based WatchGuard, features a set of body-worn cameras that easily sync with each other as officers arrive on scene. In other words, if one camera is activated, then other cameras within range, including dashboard cameras installed in police cruisers, will also turn on to provide multiple recordings and points of view during police interactions.
Other features of the camera include rapid adjustment to different light levels and 120-degree output of high definition video. According to Maj. Patrick Coon, cameras are also easy to use and any collected recordings are easy to transfer onto city servers.
Ptl. Justin Halker said officers have also been eager about using the body cameras as they’ll provide a much better picture of how officers interact with the public.
“It’s a great tool for the Lima Police Department,” Halker said. “It’ll be an eye opener to see what the LPD deals with everyday.”
The Lima Police Department also released its body camera guidelines, a five-page document detailing the ins-and-outs of how the cameras are expected to be used, during a short press event Monday. Created with the input of multiple agencies and community organizations, Martin said the policy’s goal is to ensure that every interaction between an officer and resident is capable of being recorded with common sense limits put in place to address privacy concerns that may be raised.
Organizations that helped with the policy’s development include the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, Crime Victim Services, the Black Ministerial Alliance, the NAACP, both major hospitals and local schools.
As for how cameras are used in the field, officers are responsible for advising any citizens that a recording is being made. Individuals may request body cameras to be deactivated if officers are entering a private home or building where no incident is occurring, or if there is a reasonable request for deactivation.
Body cameras are not required to be activated during normal administrative duties, non-enforcement interactions with citizens or where the privacy of individuals needs to be protected, such as is the case with confidential informants or with potentially “gratuitous” scenarios.
Guidelines also define body camera recordings as public records that may be requested from LPD. As of now, Martin said, there’s still some question of how many requests the department will receive, and depending on need, LPD may need to hire an additional public records clerk.
Other than the additional hire, Martin said the $485,000 initial cost to the city should cover body camera use for the next five years. The city’s contract also requires WatchGuard to provide an entirely new set of body cameras by 2021.
“I do believe we got the best product to serve the citizens of our community,” Martin said. “I want to thank the public and council for their patience in allowing us to get to this point.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.