By John Sharp
The Kansas City Police Department (KCPD) announced January 13 that officers assigned to the South, Metro and East Patrol Divisions are scheduled to be issued body-worn cameras this March, joining officers in the other three Patrol Divisions that already have them.
Officers assigned to the Traffic and Special Operations Divisions also are scheduled to receive body cameras this March according to Sgt. Jake Becchina of KCPD’s Media Unit.
The Board of Police Commissioners on January 12 approved purchasing 475 Panasonic body-worn video cameras for all these officers from Turn Key Mobile, the vendor selected through a competitive bidding process over a year ago.
The announcement noted that body camera manufacturers are experiencing high demand from law enforcement agencies, but the Department is hopeful the cameras it ordered will arrive as scheduled so they can be quickly deployed.
The Department also announced it has been awarded a federal grant to outfit its detectives with body cameras as well, but no date has been determined yet for when they will be received. Becchina said KCPD is also exploring other grant opportunities to purchase cameras for other officers who have contact with the public.
At the announcement event, Becchina explained that patrol officers in the Central, North and Shoal Creek Divisions were issued body cameras in November from a previous purchase of 340 cameras. The announcement said those Divisions were selected for the first phase of camera deployment since their staffing numbers matched the number of available cameras.
“Thanks Chief,” was the first message Police Chief Rick Smith said he received from an officer after the cameras were issued.
“Everybody wanted them, and everybody’s happy,” Smith said in an exclusive interview.
Central Patrol Officer Oasha White, a 5-year veteran of the Department who has been wearing a camera since November, said at the announcement that the body cameras were something the community asked for.
“I think they’re beneficial for both officers and the public,” she said.
The announcement noted that Smith successfully sought private funding in June 2020 for the original purchase of body cameras, and the DeBruce Foundation, in cooperation with the Kansas City Police Foundation, donated the funds to purchase them for patrol officers. The cameras are expected to last five to seven years, Becchina said at the announcement event.
He noted at the event that KCPD has been hosting monthly meetings with community members, prosecutors and others involved in the criminal justice system to finalize a draft policy on all aspects of the use of the cameras that staff hopes to present to the Police Board for consideration at its February meeting.
He said the policy will cover issues such as how long KCPD will retain camera footage, and when it will be made available to the public. He noted that footage from the Department’s vehicle dash cameras is currently retained for one year.
Becchina said KCPD began installing new dash cameras in its vehicles in late 2019 and completed the process in spring 2020. He said the dash cameras automatically come on when the vehicles’ lights and sirens come on, as do the body cameras.
He said officers also can manually turn on the body cameras and will be responsible for making sure their cameras are turned on whenever they have contact with members of the public. He added there will be a thorough investigation of any cases that arise when a camera is off inappropriately. He noted officers cannot edit camera footage which is automatically downloaded at the end of officers’ shifts when their vehicles enter their stations’ Wi-Fi zones.