Lafayette Police Department patrol officers may soon be wearing body cameras that capture interactions with the public and crime scene details — equipment becoming increasingly common in law enforcement agencies across the U.S.
Police Chief Jim Craft on Thursday laid out a proposed budget for next year with $270,000 set aside for new body cameras and the big computer servers needed to store the video.
“Departments report that citizens and officers are both better behaved when they know they are being recorded,” Craft said.
If the City-Parish Council approves the budget proposal, the department plans to purchase roughly 200 cameras before the end of the year, enough to outfit all patrol officers and supervisors, Craft said.
The department began testing out various body camera models last year, but Craft said no decision has been made on which system to purchase.
Some area law enforcement agencies already have equipped their officers with the cameras.
The Scott Police Department, an early adopter, started using the devices in 2013. The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office began using the cameras earlier this year.
Craft said he wanted to tread carefully.
There were legal concerns about whether using the cameras might raise privacy issues for those being recorded, the chief said, and the department wanted to consider how to handle the inevitable public records requests from the media and the public for video captured by the cameras during incidents involving officers.
There also were worries about how much computer storage space would be needed to store the flood of video files coming in each day from the field.
“That’s why we’ve gone so slow on this. Everyone jumped on it, and now you are seeing problems,” he said.
Craft said he ultimately decided the benefits of the cameras outweighed the concerns.
There is the obvious advantage of having a visual record of an officer’s interaction with the public that can be referenced when questions arise about an officer’s actions, but Craft said the video also can be used to easily capture how a crime scene or traffic accident looks when police arrive.
“At least you have some type of record,” Craft said.
Scott Police Chief Chad Leger said he outfitted his 18 officers with body cameras in March 2013 after being introduced to the technology at a police chiefs’ conference.
Leger said he has no regrets.
“Naturally, it’s good when you’re dealing with a violent situation, but it’s also very beneficial when we are working a car crash,” Leger said.
Craft said he is still developing a policy for how the cameras will be used in Lafayette, addressing such issues as when officers will turn the cameras on and off and what video is saved and for how long.
Storage will still be a challenge, he said, but the $270,000 budget request includes money for new servers to hold the video files.
“We may have to hire a person just to manage that data,” Craft said.
The council is set to vote in September on the proposed budget for next year, and if approved, the money for the new cameras would be in place by Nov. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year for city-parish government.
“We know by the fall we will be ready to move forward on it,” Craft said.