GRPD now field testing body cameras on officers

Posted at 5:43 PM, Mar 06, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The next time you come in contact with a Grand Rapids police officer, you should expect you are being recorded, Chief David Rahinsky said on Friday.

Field testing is now underway for body cameras on Grand Rapids police officers.

The Grand Rapids Police Department will have eight officers field testing two different styles of body cameras: a fixed chest camera, and a flex camera that can be worn on a collar or eyeglasses. The eight officers represent each unit and every shift at the department.

Each of the eight officers volunteered for the field testing. The cameras will be tested over a 30-day trial period.

The department and the city are in the midst of writing up a policy for proper use to determine when an officer should be required to begin recording on the camera, among other things.

Chief David Rahinsky told reporters Friday the policy will be similar to the department's existing dash cam video policy in that any interaction with an individual at a scene should have the expectation of being recorded.

“The default thinking will be to record with the understanding that just because it’s recorded doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll see the light of day," Rahinsky said. "That’s where FOIA and good policy will intercede.”

Concerns over fielding Freedom of Information Act requests and protecting privacy of individuals is also a priority that is still being worked out. The department said the current cameras being tested have software that would allow them to redact certain information of faces in video, if deemed necessary.

“We’ll really lean heavily on the redaction abilities these cameras give us in terms of protecting the anonymity and privacy of our residents," Rahinsky said, promising a "thorough vetting" of all video before it can be determined if it's appropriate to release to the public.

Rahinsky said showing the cameras and explaining the field testing procedures Friday is part of the department's effort to ensure transparency.

“What we didn’t want is anyone to be surprised when they saw this first group of eight officers wearing, testing, evaluating these cameras, so we’re rolling this out very methodically using the phased in approach," he told reporters Friday.

"This is the first step in terms of transparency and we wanted the community to know where we are in this process."

The final policy will be presented to city commissioners Tuesday along with a request for approval of more than $920,000 for a three year contract with Axon, the company manufacturing the cameras. That money will come from the city's transformation fund with further funding ultimately coming from the general operating fund. In total the city is expected to spend roughly $1.4 million for the body camera program over the next five years.

Rahinksy said the program cost turned out to be "significantly less" than originally anticipated.

Officer Mike LaFave, a veteran of the force for 25 years, said he wasn't hesitant to volunteer himself to be one of the first to test the new technology.

“I think it’s going to be a great thing for us honestly. Will it be good for the citizens, sure but I think it’s actually going to help us (officers) out in the long run," he said.

“Everything is on video, everybody’s always taking pictures and you can’t do anything about it. It’s just inevitable.”

The money would pay to equip every officer in the department, approximately 200, with a body camera, according to Rahinksy. The aim is to deploy cameras city-wide by the end of the year.