Seeking Input on a Potential Body-Worn Camera Program in Kirkland

Body-worn-camera image

Last updated on April 8, 2022. 

The City Council intends to implement a body-worn camera program in order to increase both community and officer safety.  A body-worn camera program may also increase police accountability and transparency.  The Council would like to hear from the community on policies and other considerations before making the decision to proceed.  Your feedback will have a direct influence on the Council’s consideration of a body-worn camera program in Kirkland.

The City’s community engagement process will include discussing the benefits, opportunities, costs, and concerns of a body-worn camera program. The community engagement process will also explore policy considerations for a body-worn camera program. Some of the considerations we will discuss include:

  • benefits and drawbacks of body-worn cameras,
  • who within the Kirkland Police Department should wear body-worn cameras,
  • when recording with the cameras should occur,
  • if and when recordings should be stopped, and
  • under what circumstances the footage should be shared.

A decision of whether to implement body-worn cameras is anticipated in May 2022, after the community engagement process.


The City has published the below draft policy on body-worn cameras to help inform this community conversation.  This draft policy was developed utilizing the Department’s subscription to Lexipol, which is a company that provides a full library of customizable, state-specific law enforcement policies that are updated in response to new state and federal laws and court decisions.  These policies are researched and written by subject matter experts and vetted by attorneys.  They are based on nationwide standards and best practices, but are always customized to best fit the Kirkland Police Department and signed off by the Chief of Police before becoming KPD policy. 

In addition, and specific to the draft body worn camera policy, staff obtained Department policies surrounding this issue from both our neighboring and regional law enforcement partners in order to compare and contrast language, as well as conducting research into model policies as published by organizations such as the ACLU, IACP and the Department of Justice.  

Review the draft KPD policy on body-worn cameras(PDF, 39KB)    Review the 2021 ACLU model policy on body-worn cameras(PDF, 138KB)


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Why body-worn cameras?

Body-worn cameras (BWCs) are often proposed as solution to increasing police accountability and transparency. Because BWCs provide an audio-visual recording of encounters between police and the public, BWCs may encourage officers and community members to maintain a higher standard of behavior during an incident, ultimately leading to an increase in mutual respect and safety. While a BWC cannot replace an officer’s “perception,” it may enhance their memory particularly in complex and stressful interactions.

How would the City of Kirkland use body-worn cameras?

Should the City move forward with a body-worn camera program, the Kirkland Police Department would use the cameras in accordance with applicable law to:

  • Accurately capture the actions, interactions, and communication of the Kirkland Police Department and the public.
  • Collect evidence for use in criminal investigations and prosecutions.
  • Deter criminal activity and uncooperative behavior during police-public interactions.
  • Assist Kirkland Police Department staff with completing reports and providing testimony in court.
  • Ensure accountability for policy and law violations.
  • Assist in resolving complaints.
  • Provide additional information for Kirkland Police Department evaluation, training, and continuous improvement.

Background 

Following the events in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, the City of Kirkland considered deploying Body Worn Cameras (BWC) for police officers. Experience, best practices, and the legal environment concerning BWCs were underdeveloped and not well defined at that time. Staff's recommendation was to defer consideration of BWC in Kirkland until the legal environment stabilized and matured, and more experience was gained across the state and nation to identify best practices for the use of body cameras.  

Recent Timeline of City Actions on Body-Worn Cameras

On May 5, 2020, the City Council requested an update on BWCs to include the Washington State Joint Legislative Task Force results on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras, current public disclosure laws, and an estimate of the cost involved in deploying BWC in the form of an issue paper.

On July 7, 2020, Chief Harris provided a preliminary update on research the Police Department was conducting on BWC programs.

On August 8, 2020, the Council adopted Resolution 5434 to improve the safety and respect of Black people, which included Section 2e: “Developing a police body camera pilot program.”

On October 21, 2020, an extensive report on body-worn cameras was completed by the Kirkland Police Department.

The 2021-2022 Community Safety Initiative budget includes a place holder for a BWC pilot program in 2022, the funding for the initial set up of equipment, and two full time FTE’s to manage the digital information and the public records requests.

The topic of BWC was included as part of the R-5434 community engagement process of late 2020 and early 2021. As directed in R-5434, that process included conversations with formal and informal Black-led community groups, Black community leaders, youth, and community members, and other people of color in a series of focus groups. Although not discussed by all groups, a BWC program, if done correctly, generally received strong support from the groups that did prioritize discussing it.

In July 2021, the City of Kirkland submitted a U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance Grant application(PDF, 239KB) to support the purchase of BWCs. The City received notification from BAJ in December 2021 that the Department was awarded approximately $220,000 dollars to purchase the initial equipment needed to implement a BWC program. The grant acceptance deadline was January 31, 2022.

At the January 18, 2022 Council meeting, the City Manager highlighted that the City would accept the grant, but acceptance did not commit the City to implementing a BWC program. Certification of Department BWC policies must occur by June 1, 2022. In addition, the two staff must be hired by September 1, 2022 to comply with the parameters of the grant award. If the City Council chooses not to implement a BWC program in Kirkland, the Department will notify BJA of the decision and apply to return the grant award.

 

Considerations

Following are summaries of many of the considerations researched by the City of Kirkland. More information can be found in the September 2020 City of Kirkland Body-Worn Camera Report(PDF, 548KB).  Please note: this report was published in 2020, and some of the research and information provided in it is no longer accurate.  For example, the ACLU and CampaignZero have both updated their positions and no longer support the implementation of body-worn cameras.  The City will be updating the positions of the organizations referenced in the report as those changes are identified.  Also, as part of this community conversation, the City will be collecting additional sources for research and data related to body-worn cameras to inform the Council and community on this topic.  

Due to the fluidity of law enforcement work, BWCs record more than the public space stationary cameras. Officers could potentially record inside private residences and other non-public areas, and film sensitive situations that might emerge during calls for service. Significant privacy concerns can also arise when interviewing crime victims, particularly in situations involving rape, abuse, or other sensitive matters. When implementing BWCs, law enforcement agencies must balance these privacy considerations with the need for transparency of police operations, accurate documentation of events, and evidence collection. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

It is generally up to each police department within Washington State to determine their BWC policy when cameras are activated and deactivated. State law stipulates several issues that policies must address at a minimum such as when a body worn camera must be activated and deactivated, when officers have the discretion to stop and start body worn cameras, what to do when there is a communication or language issue, documentation, training, and data protection. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

Washington State is a two/all-party consent state when it comes to recordings. State law RCW defines that advising a person they are being recorded is considered obtaining consent: The law also addresses that recordings of an emergency nature, such as the reporting of a fire, medical emergency, crime, or disaster, does not require all-party consent. There may be situations where a person’s ability to acknowledge or consent to recording may be compromised. Because of this, BWCs may have a disproportionate impact on those with disadvantaged positions, such as people with mental illness, who are homeless, or who are otherwise in crisis. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

While Washington State law prohibits the disclosure of BWC recordings from medical facilities where an individual is receiving treatment or health care information, consideration should be made to record non-law enforcement action in medical facilities and officers’ BWCs recording medical treatment on-scene of a call for service. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

The City of Kirkland currently follows all State of Washington retention schedules. The City will need to develop a policy for retention of BWC recordings within the parameters of state policy and with consideration of the privacy of those recorded. The longer recorded videos are retained, the longer they are subject to public disclosure, which can be problematic if the video contains footage associated with privacy concerns. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

Disclosure of BWC footage can promote transparency and accountability but can also create privacy concerns for recordings of victims, sensitive incidents/investigations, or from private areas. State law describes several situations in which nondisclosure is essential for the protection of privacy rights including certain medical situations, inside private homes, when the footage involves a minor or a deceased person, and other circumstances. State law also clarifies the public records requests as they pertain to BWC footage. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

Body-worn camera recordings are stored digitally and record a significant amount of footage requiring a large amount of digital media storage space. In addition to a comprehensive, secure digital media storage solution, direct media management and oversight is needed. Consideration for additional personnel to categorize recordings, determine retention schedules, perform redaction and transcription, and destroy media in a timely manner is imperative. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

Input from the community into the development of operational policies governing the use of BWCs is important to the City of Kirkland and encouraged by state law. BWCs have been shown to promote transparency and accountability.  Research also showed there may be concerns over unintended impacts of BWCs, such as whether the presence of recording devices discourages people from coming forward with information or impacts community members disproportionately. It’s essential that the community carefully consider all potential benefits and drawbacks of a body-worn camera program and it’s why the City of Kirkland is inviting input now. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

Officer concerns can include questions surrounding their own privacy during periods in which they are not interacting with the public, the ability to review footage prior to writing reports, understanding policies on what is recorded and released, and the effects of public disclosure requests.  One of the factors that will need to be addressed is how the Department and City will use camera footage to monitor officer performance. Body-worn cameras would be considered a change in working conditions and would be subject to the collective bargaining agreement process. Read more(PDF, 548KB).

For the City of Kirkland, a body-worn camera program is estimated to cost approximately $2.2 million for a 5-year period. This includes the cost of equipment, the storage of thousands of hours of footage, and additional personnel needed to review and categorize the footage and respond to public record requests. The cost can be offset by a $220,000 grant offered to the City by the U.S Department of Justice.

  Year 1  Year 2  Year 3 Year 4  Year 5  Total
Equipment and Storage   $150,000  $209,880  $218,275 $227,006  $236,086  $1,041,248
Training    $25,000  $25,000      $50,000
Evidence Technician (1 FTE)  $30,290  $110,513  $117,696  $125,347  $133,495  $517,341
Public Disclosure Analyst (1 FTE)  $33,541  $123,174  $131,180  $139,707  $148,788  $576,390
DOJ BWC Grant Award    $(220,000)        $(220,000)
Total Estimated Costs  $231,831 $248,567   $492,151  $492,060 $518,369 $1,964,978