Advocacy group questions lack of WPD body cameras

WICHITA, Kan. — It has been nearly one month since an officer-involved shooting in Wichita left a suspect dead. Since then, KSN has been asking tough questions about police surveillance, prompting questions from area advocacy groups, including Speak Out Kansas.

KSN learned the Wichita Police Department is in the process of phasing out patrol car dash cameras. At the same time however, the department has a limited number of body cameras: only 48. With these limited resources, a potential lack of video evidence has some Wichitans concerned.

“We get the cameras, you know, you don’t have to worry about that as much. Nothing’s 100 percent, but it’ll definitely help,” said Monty Shaw, the executive director of Speak Out Kansas.

For members of the advocacy group, the body camera discussion is nothing new.

“We’ve been talking about this a long time, and still it’s only a few officers that are wearing these cameras,” said Dorothy Franklin, a member of Speak Out Kansas.

For members of the advocacy group, it is about accountability from both parties.

“The cameras do help the citizen, as well as the police department,” said Melchester Clemons.

Tuesday night, Wichita Police gave the group an update on efforts to acquire additional body cameras.

“Quite possible we will be getting more cameras on a limited scale,” said Lt. Dan East, with the Wichita Police Department.

One of the Wichita Police Department's body cameras
One of the Wichita Police Department’s body cameras

For members of Speak Out Kansas who have been fighting for more body cameras for years, that answer wasn’t good enough.

“All of them should have to wear it at one time,” said Franklin.

“There needs to be more,” said Clemons.

With fewer than 50 cameras to work with for more than 400 WPD patrol officers, the odds of catching incidents like the officer related shooting that happened last month on camera are left up to chance.

Only about 10 percent of the department’s patrol officers have body cameras. The police department told KSN they do their best to divide the body cameras as evenly as possible between all four bureaus and all four time shifts.

While WPD admits body cameras are more accurate because they follow the sight of the police officer, the issue comes down to cost.

“It’s expensive… It takes time to train the officers and there is a price tag with it. It’s not free,” said Captain Brian White with the WPD.

One body camera alone costs about $1,500, but it is the operating costs of the 48 cameras that add up to nearly $100,000 to operate for only three years.

When KSN asked Wichita Police if the money gained from drug tax stamp revenue could be used to purchase body cameras, representatives said they were still not certain.

Across the country, departments that have equipped police officers with body cameras have seen dramatic results. A 2012 study from the Rialto Police Department showed that even though only 50% of the force was outfitted with the cameras, after only one year, it saw an 88 percent decline in complaints filed against officers.

Even more striking, officers used force 60 percent less often.

To learn more about the study of body cameras, follow this link.

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