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Louisville Metro Police officers in the Fifth Division will begin wearing body cameras in June.

About 100 officers in the division, which includes the Highlands area, will be the first in the department to wear body cameras in the field. The pilot program in the Fifth Division is expected to last about 45 days, and then the body camera program will expand to other divisions, said Chief Steve Conrad.

Louisville Metro Police has been looking to outfit officers with body cameras since about 2012. Earlier this week, the department placed an order for 988 cameras from TASER, a company that specializes in law enforcement equipment.

On Thursday, city and police officials outlined specifics of how the program will be funded and what will be expected of officers wearing the cameras.

Cost

The total cost of the body camera program will be about $2.8 million, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said.

About $950,000 will come from the city’s general fund, about $900,000 will come via a short-term debt note and federal forfeiture funds will account for about $900,000, said Daniel Frockt, interim chief financial officer for Louisville Metro.

body camsTASER

The costs account for the actual cameras, the cost for data storage and the cost for hiring additional personnel to manage data, Frockt said.

Granting of the funds depends on Metro Council approval, Fischer said.

He said he intends to include the proposal for the body camera program his 2015-2016 fiscal year budget proposal to the council.

Several council members stood behind the mayor during the press conference in a sign of support for the program.

Metro Councilman Bill Hollander, a Democrat from District 9, said he “very much” supports the program and hasn’t talked to any council members not in support.

“But, I certainly haven’t talked to everybody,” he added.

The complete 2015-2016 fiscal year budget will be unveiled on May 28 and sent to the council for consideration, according to a press release.

The most costly aspect of of the program will be data storage and management, officials said. Police officials will have a five-year subscription to a cloud-based data management program through TASER. About four personnel positions will also need to be added in order to manage footage and respond to open records requests.

Conrad said the allocation of funds does not mean the department is missing out on other opportunities for upgrades in order to pay for the cameras.

“This has been a priority for us,” he said. “God willing and with the council’s support we will have the opportunity to move forward with this in the coming fiscal year.”

When The Cameras Will Be Turned On

Policy regarding the body camera program has been added to the police department’s Standard Operating Procedure. It can be found online here (scroll to page 317).

The policy states that officers equipped with body cameras must keep the cameras “in a constant state of operational readiness” and record all official law enforcement actions. An official law enforcement action includes, but is not limited to, events like traffic stops, pedestrian stops, vehicle pursuits, frisks or pat downs, “knock and talks” and prisoner transports, among others.

“Officers are not and will not be required to record casual interactions with citizens,” Conrad said.

When asked where officers will need to draw the line between casual interaction and law enforcement interaction, Conrad said it comes down to the potential for an arrest or citation.

“When that situation turns into a situation, ‘I might need to make an arrest or I need to interview them in connection with a crime,’ at that point I would activate the camera,” he said.

Officers failing to turn the cameras on during interactions that are required to be recorded must explain why, Conrad said.

“They’ll be required to write a memo explaining what happened,” he said.

If an officer turns the camera off during an interaction they would otherwise be required to record, they also must explain why, he added.

“Officers will be held accountable for the decision they make in terms of when they turn cameras on and when they turn them off,” he said.

An example of a scenario which turning the camera off would be “justifiable” would be if a citizen “may want to provide some information about criminal activity that may be confidential in nature.”

“We would not want an officer talking to a confidential informant and have that information end up on a video recording,” he said.

Officers will also be allowed, by law, to record wherever they have a legal right to be, Conrad said.

“Officers will not turn off a camera simply because a citizen makes a request for them to do so,” he said.

All recordings will be maintained by the department for at least 30 days, Conrad said.

“Anything we record that involves criminal activity, an investigation, anything that could lead to an administrative investigation or anything that is involved in litigation, we will retain that video as long as we are legally required to do so,” he said.

In regards to Open Records Requests, Conrad said videos will be released “pusuant to requests under the Kentucky Open Records act.”

“Where exceptions to the Open Records Act apply, we will claim those exceptions as appropriate to protect the personal privacy of citizens in their homes, to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation and any video that would involve a juvenile suspect,” he added.

Officers will not have the ability to edit footage, Conrad said. The footage will be automatically uploaded to a cloud-based service with details added by officers regarding when certain events occur throughout the video.

Officers in each division will go through about a month of training before taking the cameras into the field.

The Camera

Conrad said the camera chosen by the police department—the Axon Flex model from TASER (listed for about $600 per unit)—is the “absolute best body camera that is out there.”

“We are excited about it, but I will tell you that camera is not the same as the human eye,” he said.

He means the 70 degree field of view the cameras boast is less than what the human eye can see.

“There are things the officer can see or can be reacting to that are outside of that field of view,” he said.

He added the lack of depth perception on recorded footage will make it difficult to determine how far away someone is from an officer during review.

The cameras can be worn in four different positions, Conrad demonstrated. The small, nearly two-inch long camera is just larger than a double-A sized battery.

Officers will be able to mount the camera on a hat, on eyeglasses, on a “halo” mount that goes around the head or on a “collar” mount that goes around the neck.

One of the most pressing issues officers presented regarding body cameras, Conrad said, is the wearability of the cameras.

“The biggest concern they had was wearing a camera on their head,” he said. “They were worried that if someone was to strike them in their head that camera could be jammed in their eye.”

Because of these concerns, police officials wanted to ensure the officers had varying positions they could try to ensure they find a comfortable, efficient fit that can capture necessary footage, Conrad said.

The cameras are waterproof and shockproof. They have about a 12-hour battery life and can be charged when footage is downloaded at the end of each shift or during a shift using a USB hook-up.

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad demonstrates a glasses mounted position.Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad demonstrates a glasses mounted position.

Program Rollout

Some residents and council members expressed concern in a recent Courier-Journal report that the pilot program in the Fifth Division—which is predominately white—counters to any effort to increase public trust in law enforcement in minority communities.

Conrad said the Fifth Division is “an active part of town,” but, on average, that division receives less calls for service than the other seven police divisions.

“I want to make sure we do it right,” he said. “I did not want to start this program in another neighborhood in another division in our city where we experience more calls for service and more issues.”

The idea, he said, is to run the pilot program for about 45 days in the Fifth Division. Then, move the program to the Second Division, First Division, Fourth Division, Third Division, Seventh Division, Eighth Division and then the Sixth Division and Traffic Units—in that specific order, Conrad said.

The Sixth Division, which includes much of the Newburg area, needs some infrastructure upgrades to support the program, Conrad said.

He added he would also like to equip specialty units, such as the SWAT Team and VIPER Unit. The timeline for the specialty unit rollout is not part of a “main focus,” he added.

A public meeting is set for June 2—though the location has not been set—for residents in the Fifth Division to learn more about the program.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.