LYNNWOOD — Body cameras are coming to the Lynnwood police force.
The City Council Monday evening approved $530,000 to buy body-worn cameras and hire a new full-time staffer in the police department to handle the expected influx of public disclosure requests. The devices could be bought as soon as next month. Lynnwood police Cmdr. Sean Doty said the department hopes to have them in use this fall.
“It is our hope that the body worn cameras can bring greater transparency between interactions between police and public, which in turn increases accountability and hopefully builds trust between our officers and the community,” Mayor Nicola Smith said in an email Tuesday.
The 57 or so cameras, which will record both audio and video, will cover just about all uniformed officers who interact with the public, Doty said.
“It’s comforting for those on both sides of the fence, both the officer and the members of the community that they contact,” he said. “Hopefully it generates better behavior both by the community member being contacted and also by the officer who’s wearing the device.”
Doty added he “would’ve loved to have had body cam footage” when reviewing past cases.
“A lot of the claims could be very easily settled by just looking at the video,” he said.
The program is funded by a fraction of the nearly $11 million federal American Rescue Plan Act funds the city received. But the cost could partially be offset by more than $160,000 the city recently got from the state specifically to assist with the costs associated with law enforcement initiatives passed by the Legislature, Lynnwood finance director Michelle Meyer said Monday. Cities are getting about $4 per capita.
Few Snohomish County police departments have the devices. Everett police bought 150 body cameras for uniformed officers, who are all now wearing them, said Officer Kerby Duncan. Everett also dedicated a full-time position focused on redaction and public disclosure of the videos captured by officers.
The Snohomish County Council also passed $300,000 in funding last year to equip some sheriff’s deputies with body cameras.
Lynnwood police ran a body-worn camera pilot project in 2016, with three or four cameras rotating among a few officers for several months, Doty said. Since then, the city has been working on finding the money to fund the expensive equipment and record-keeping, city spokesperson Julie Moore said in an email. The police department had planned to request a body camera program in the recent budget cycle, but financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic doomed that proposal.
So when Smith asked leaders of various city departments for their preferences with the new federal funds, police Chief James Nelson noted body cameras were a top priority. In a post to the department’s website last year, Nelson said one of the biggest hurdles to implementing a body camera program was the heavy lift of public disclosure.
Part of the reasoning for the move is new legislation passed in Olympia this year that requires police to record some interrogations in an attempt to increase transparency in felony cases.
There are also privacy concerns, however, when it comes to body cameras. Civil rights groups have warned that unfettered access to video footage could have the opposite of the intended effects. In a 2017 report, Upturn and The Leadership Conference, for example, argued that it possibly “places civil rights at risk and undermines the goals of transparency and accountability.”
“Ultimately, we must recognize that these cameras are just a tool, not a substitute for broader reforms needed to address police misconduct, build trust between police and communities of color, and ultimately fix our broken justice system,” the report said.
Doty cautioned body cameras won’t solve everything.
“It’s just one more tool that we have available to us,” he said. “It’s not the end all be all that people might be hoping it is.”
The funding for the equipment passed the Lynnwood council unanimously.
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.