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After several years of discussion, Wash. agency receives bodycams

Talks first began in 2015 regarding the implementation of body cameras and in-car dashboard cameras at the Olympia Police Department


By Ty Vinson
The Olympian

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Officers with the Olympia Police Department now have body cameras, a tool the city has been trying to implement for several years.

Chief Rich Allen said officers started wearing the cameras on Halloween. The city began talks of implementing body cameras and in-car dashboard cameras in 2015, and the city council approved funding last year to make it happen in 2022.

“It looks like we’ve been working on this for a year, and we have, and from the outside looking in it might seem like that’s a long time to get us up and running,” Allen said. “But I’m proud of the work our team did. It was a heavy lift to get this done.”

In May, Allen and others in the department gave presentations to the city council and the public, outlining why the department needs body-worn cameras and giving people the opportunity to weigh in on the matter. A vendor, the Axon Network, was selected to provide the equipment through a $800,000 contract.

Allen said the department already had a contract with Axon for its digital evidence management system.

[DOWNLOAD: Police1’s 2022 guide to body-worn cameras]

The city opened a public comment period for people to weigh in on the department getting the technology. Allen said there were 114 responses, and most of the concerns were about privacy and access.

He said the department is able to redact bits of information from the footage as needed, such as in situations where people are in a medical facility, there are minors, or nudity. More information can be found on the city’s website.

Accessing the footage will work the same as any other public records request, he said, and fees could be charged, too, depending on how much redacting will need to be done.

He said people also are concerned about officers wearing the cameras properly, keeping them on and unobstructed.

“We’re giving it to them, they have to wear it, they have to use it appropriately, and they can’t turn it off when they’re not supposed to,” Allen said. “That’s all been addressed in our policy.”

He said the officers and police union have been in full support of the body cameras and they see the value in wearing them.

Axon recently finished outfitting TCOMM, the dispatch center, with the technology. Allen said they’re using what’s called auto tagging, where the body camera will recognize what call for service an officer is on, and it will automatically link the video and audio files to that information.

The department also is set to receive dashboard cameras, but they won’t be coming until sometime in 2023.

According to the department’s website, the cameras have a 146-degree angle of view from the chest of the officer. They record both audio and video at 720p and 30 frames per second. They can store up to 26 hours of video and their battery life is 12 hours.

There will be an open house at 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at City Hall for people to learn more about the equipment, see how it works and more.

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