City approves contract for Wichita police body cameras

Body Cameras (KSN File Photo)

WICHITA, Kansas – The city of Wichita voted Tuesday on a contract approving the use of body cameras by Wichita police officers.

The council voted 6-0 to approve a contract with Taser International. It will take four to five months to get the cameras up and running.

Some at the council meeting said the city is moving too fast, with no policy in place ruling how and when body cams are activated by officers.

“Yes, they have no long-term policy… governing the body cams,” says Walt Chappell of the Racial Profiling Advisory Board in Wichita. “Right now they have been doing this all behind closed doors. And we have had meetings since last summer saying yes you are going to see them, (policy) we are going to have you involved.”

But Chappell says, so far, they have not seen the policy or a rough draft.

City officials say, hold on, a policy is on the way.

“I have about 20 different policies that I physically have that I have gathered from around the country,” says Captain Brian White with the Wichita Police Department.

White is taking the lead on putting together official police policy regarding body camera video for officers.

Questions remain, says White, about when video is released to the public, through the media. More questions remain over when cameras are turned on by officers. Right now the city of Wichita already has about 60 police body cameras in the field, being worn by beat officers on the streets.

White says they do have an interim policy in place. But, what about a permanent policy, and when will it be announced?

“We have to gather that information and research it and ask other municipalities, why do you have this in your policy?” says White. “We also have hired an outside law firm to look at our policy.”

White says it is now up to officer discretion as to when a police body camera is activated.

KSN asked if body cameras could be activated immediately upon an officer interacting with the public.

White says he’s still gathering information on what works best.

“We are working on things like… does the officer have the opportunity to turn the camera off? Is there an automatic switch as it relates to this camera?” says White. “What they’re (Taser International company) working on right now is an automatic switch so if you remove that (officer taser) from the holster, it automatically will kick on the camera… They are beta testing that right now in the field.”

The city wants to have every police officer on the street to have one. White says the agreement with Taser International offers Wichita free technology upgrades as part of the contract. That could include “auto on” functions when an officer draws a taser from their holster.

Chappell’s advisory board, and the Sunflower Community Action Group still say they have concerns over the bidding process that was first opened back in 2011. They point out the bidding this time for the full deployment of body cameras for every officer was not an “open bid” as the city decided to go with Taser International.

City communications director, Ken Evans, says that’s not true. He says city purchasing ordinance allows the city of Wichita to use a competitive bid from the state of Arizona.

Here is a response from Evans:

Here is a link to the City purchasing ordinance, which was followed:

http://www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Clerk/OrdanicesDocuments/49-816%20Purchasing%20Ordinances%20Revised.pdf

“In this case, subsection (j) was used, as the City used a public, competitive bid from the State of Arizona: (j) Intergovernmental Cooperative Contracts and Agreements. The purchasing manager is authorized to purchase supplies, services and equipment from contracts and agreements of other governmental entities which have been awarded, subject to public bidding and approved by the proper governmental entities authority;”

The deal is with the Taser company that sells body cameras and tasers. It lasts for five years and will cost $2.2 million. The contract does not include sales for officer tasers.

Initial costs for the first year of body cameras will be a little more than $700,000, with a yearly operating cost of a little more than $360,000.

KSN asked Mayor Jeff Longwell if the public has had input, or if there will be more input since the city does not have a permanent policy in play for the body cameras.

“We’ve held a series of public meetings to get input from the public as we move forward with this issue,” said Longwell. “And to grow confidence in what we are doing.”

Captain White says there will be more input in the policy.

“Policy is on the way,” says White. “We have a draft policy.”

White says there will be more public engagement on the policy, including public meetings.

The city wants to have every officer on the streets wearing a body camera by the end of the year.

The city is still working on getting grants to pay for portions of the first year operating costs.

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