EDITORIAL: Why don’t these KC-area police departments have body cameras?

Tuesday , February 13, 2018 - 3:56 PM

Kansas City Star

Kansas City-area police departments are out of excuses for not requiring body cameras for their officers.

It is beyond dispute that body cameras provide important information about police behavior and that of criminal suspects. Body camera footage cleared a Topeka man of assault accusations. Body camera video helped the public understand a police shooting in Olathe.

Body cameras provide essential information that protects the police and the public.

Yet we may never know the full story of a recent police shooting in Overland Park because that city — one of the wealthiest in the metropolitan area — doesn’t require body cameras for its officers.

That should change quickly.

Most agencies cite the cost associated with storage as a reason they have declined to equip officers with them. Yet that excuse seems empty when other departments and other cities have found ways to employ the technology.

While Overland Park ducks body cameras, officers in Shawnee and Lenexa have them. So does the Johnson County Sheriff’s department and the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s office.

Kansas City, Kansas, is in the process of buying cameras for 228 officers.

A Lenexa police spokesman says the department pays roughly $50,000 a year to store its body camera footage from 90 officers. Overland Park employs around 175 police officers and sergeants, according to its 2018 budget.

Simple math suggests Overland Park could store its body camera footage for about $100,000. That’s a pittance for a department that will spend $62.5 million this year.

In Missouri, the picture is also mixed. Approximately 70 Clay County sheriff’s deputies are assigned body cameras. Will Akin, a captain with the office, said body cameras are effective crime-fighting tools.

Raytown police wore cameras for several years but ended the program due to a tight budget. With a force of close to 140, Lee’s Summit police equipped four officers from its motorcycle unit with $1,400 cameras.

Independence Police Officer John Syme, citing cost, said the department has no plans to use them. Liberty police don’t use body cameras, but may in the future.

And, of course, the Kansas City Police Department — which is apparently exploring ways to expand its mounted police, despite a study recommending the end of the unit — complains body cameras cost too much.

Departments refusing to use body cameras are using price as an excuse to avoid doing the right thing. Cities that decline to invest in body camera technology are confusing cost with value.

What is the value of a fuller understanding of police and suspect behavior? What’s the value of learning important lessons after the fatal shooting in Overland Park? Is it worth it to protect an officer from unfair accusations, or to increase the public’s faith in law enforcement?

Body cameras raise a new set of questions about public access, open records, context and information. We’re confident those questions can be addressed by cities that lack the cameras — because other cities have figured it out.

There is no reason for further delay. Overland Park, Kansas City and other departments must move to body camera technology as soon as possible.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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