Body cameras? Renton is starting talks again

After four years the city is considering the new equipment

Body cameras continue to be in the early talks at Renton Police Department, after an initial pilot program in 2016.

A mayor newsletter last week stated that police were looking at adding body cameras, in an effort to protect officers and residents.

“Body cameras help increase transparency and public trust by offering an unbiased video recording of interactions between officers and the public,” Mayor Denis Law stated in the newsletter, also adding he would keep residents informed as the department moves forward.

When the Reporter reached out to Renton Police Department regarding what step it’s at with body cameras, Cmdr. David Leibman stated in an email that the department did “not have enough info to speak on the topic.” He also stated that the department “had not given them too much thought” and that there wasn’t more information beyond what was presented in the mayor’s newsletter.

But in 2016, the department went through a pilot program using body cameras, with 10 police officers being equipped with cameras from two possible companies. The department then created a policy for body cameras, and selected one of the camera vendors. The same year, the state Legislature passed engrossed house bill 2362, that provided certain protections to any department that had deployed body cameras, including piloting them, by June 2016.

This year the discussion came back as Police Chief Ed VanValey told councilmembers in March the department has a good plan and decent estimate in costs in adding body cameras.

On March 11, VanValey briefed council on where the department is at with body cameras.

But nothing has happened since then. At that meeting, VanValey said it was because the department is measuring the “impact” that body cameras have on nearby agencies. Tukwila, for example, didn’t ask for additional employees after adding body cameras and now their public records requests are overwhelmed, he said, going through redacting the videos to blur or beep out confidential protections, like license plate numbers.

Kent also recently started a pilot program for the cameras. VanValey said they’re “actively measuring” Seattle, Tukwila and Kent’s pilot to see how those departments handle it. He said he wants Renton to put forth a package that would take care of the extra workload, including three additional record’s staff, and maybe add staff to the attorney’s office and IT. He also pointed out that Auburn, Federal Way and King County Sheriff’s Office haven’t started body cameras.

VanValey told council cameras are a huge commitment for a lot of money. He said there’s at least $1 million cost within the first year.

“For officers, it’s easy. I wear a camera, my policy says when it’s on and off, and it’ll automatically download to the station,” he told council. “For the records retention, that’s where the bulk of the work comes, and the costs.”

Mayor Denis Law also said at the meeting entertainment companies also frequently request these videos. The body camera technology and rules around them are also constantly changing, Law said. The city wants to make sure they don’t underestimate what they need to roll out the cameras.

Councilmembers and VanValey talked about legislation being key in creating reasonable blocks to access to videos.

“(Body cameras are) the best thing for the officer, because it shows they’re doing their job right,” Persson said.

The Reporter has asked for an interview with VanValey, but no response was given by press time.

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