Ellensburg and CWU police departments to receive funding for body cameras

Star Diavolikis, Senior Reporter

Residents of Ellensburg will soon see CWU and city police officers wearing new body cameras due to monetary requests being approved at the beginning of this month by Ellensburg City Council.

According to the council’s agenda from Jan. 4, the budget was approved in December during the 2021/2022 biennial budget, and the expenditure was approved during this month’s meeting on Jan. 4. Ellensburg Mayor Bruce Tabb said the vote was unanimous, and the council is supportive of the local police department.

Ellensburg Police Department (EPD) Captain Hansberry said having body cameras will hopefully keep and strengthen the trust they currently have with the community. He acknowledged there are people who either do not trust or doubt the police, and hopes this body camera program will eliminate these doubts.

“One of the things we’re looking forward to [with] this program is complete transparency and accountability,” Hansberry said. “Our officers want the public to know that they’re doing the right thing. Not that they won’t ever make mistakes.”

Tabb said there is a good relationship currently between the community and the police department, especially with efforts the current Chief of Police Ken Wade has taken.

“The current chief has made some significant investments in time and energy in reaching out and establishing communication, particularly with students and the broader community,” Tabb said. “[He] has also invested time and resources in providing training to all the officers around things such as complicit bias, issues in the LGBTQ community, mental health training and just a range of different issues in things that he’s worked to expose the police department with.”

Hansberry said it is uncertain when exactly the cameras will be in use, however will hopefully be within a few weeks. These cameras provide new documentation opportunities due to how the system functions.

“The body camera syncs with the in-car camera, so part of what we’re purchasing is a camera system that incorporates both the in-car camera and the officer’s body worn camera and then syncs them together,” Hansberry said. “Usually the audio from the body worn camera [is] the audio for both cameras.”

Having a body camera along with the audio can dispel a lot of issues regarding having incomplete records of what happens in certain events. With these body cameras and microphones, there will always be audio and video documentation of the event.

Hansberry said the new system will pick up all audio due to the microphone being on the body worn camera. In an example, Hansberry described during a traffic stop the police officer will now have full audio and visual documentation. “Where before, you might hear the scuffle on the mic, or the mic might be breaking in and out, but you don’t see any video from the dash camera and you have sketchy, if any, audio at all from the microphone to the in-car.” Following this event, the officer will be able to log the audio and video footage for case records.

A setback was the laws surrounding body cameras that made them costly. Legislation recently changed regarding body camera laws that made things easier for police forces interested and caused the total costs to lower, which in turn made it more obtainable for EPD.

“After several years of legislative work on privacy concerns for both the public and the officers, the laws and guidelines for body worn cameras are in line with our expectations,” the meeting agenda stated. “The Police Department has researched body worn camera systems and identified Coban Technologies as a vendor that will sync body worn cameras with an in-car camera system.”

Within this budget, there are other costs besides the cameras alone. Hansberry said a budget for staff that is dedicated to sifting through the footage is required, and the meeting agenda states redaction software will be needed. The redaction software will be necessary when public disclosure requests are made.