The Justice Department has awarded more than $500,000 to a trio of Washington law enforcement agencies to help offset the expenses of implementing body-worn camera programs for their officers.
Two of the agencies, Redmond and Kirkland, have received the bulk of the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) grants, which will go towards implementing programs that U.S. Attorney Nick Brown says will help bring “accountability and public transparency” to the agencies. The third recipient was the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office.
“Body cameras are an important tool for law enforcement to use,” Brown said. “They are conducive to trust, transparency and an investigative tool in cases where police actions raise questions in the mind of the public.”
Brown noted that a recent study from the University of Chicago says that while cameras and data storage issues are expensive and daunting, especially for smaller agencies, their use can actually be cost-effective by reducing the number of complaints and shortening the time it takes to investigate complaints.
At the same time, their use can reduce public distrust of the police, born of a history of officers defending each other by conforming their stories to a particular narrative or refusing to expose misconduct. committed within their ranks.
Brown acknowledged the Seattle Times’ recent coverage of the September 20, 2020 shooting death of Andrea Churna by Redmond officers as an example where an officer’s body camera video would have been helpful. Churna, a single mother in crisis who called the police for help, ended up being shot. The King County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the incident, noted that the officers involved refused to cooperate early on and provided written statements days after consulting with a guild attorney. The officer who fired the fatal gunshots, Daniel Mendoza, was never interviewed and did not provide a statement to investigators.
None of the officers involved carried a camera and there were no civilian witnesses or surveillance video of the shooting, leaving investigators and the public to rely entirely on the officers’ version of events.
“We find time and time again that the stories told by officers are different from the actual events as they unfolded,” Brown said. “Having video footage gives us an account. It’s good for everyone involved.
However, Brown said he doesn’t see them as a “pandemic for all the complaints and issues facing law enforcement, including the use of force or racial disparities in enforcement.”
Redmond, home of tech giant Microsoft, has 86 officers and will receive $170,000 from the BJA to begin implementing a program, assuming the city council approves a matching amount of city funds. The BJA grant says the Redmond community strongly supports a camera program for its officers and that a recent poll showed 94% of its residents approve of the program.
The city plans to hold a series of community meetings regarding the project.
“The community looks forward to the benefits of a camera program, such as increased transparency, officer accountability, improved citizen behavior, reduced citizen complaints, improved evidence for cases penalties, liability reduction and training,” the grant application said.
In a statement, Redmond Police Chief Darrell Lowe said the city council has approved funding for body cameras for all city officers and 29 dashcams for patrol cars.
“In addition, we will be upgrading our tasers and starting to use the vendor’s virtual reality training platform which focuses on de-escalation,” Lowe said, adding the program should be operational by the second quarter of 2022, assuming the city can finalize labor negotiations and overcome some supply chain issues.
Kirkland will receive $220,000 from the BJA for its body-worn camera program, provided it decides to accept the grant and match that fund, Kirkland Police Department Civilian Administrative Commander Melissa Petrichor said. .
If accepted, Kirkland residents will begin seeing camera-equipped officers beginning in January 2023, according to the grant application.
She said the council would start talking to the community in early January. The city has 45 days to determine if it will accept the money and match it. Petrichor said the city is “very pleased” to receive the grant, which, if accepted, will be used to start a phased process to provide body cameras to about 110 officers.
Skagit County received a $133,681 grant and, according to the Skagit Valley Herald, its deputies will begin training with the devices this week.
“The program will help the (Skagit County Sheriff’s Office) improve our community-focused policing strategies by promoting transparency and accountability,” according to the county’s grant application.
A new state law takes effect in January that requires law enforcement to record any questioning of suspected criminals or minors in custody.