Little Rock police officers could be wearing body cameras as soon as April, the department's chief said Thursday after announcing a $194,000 federal grant to buy the devices.
A U.S. Department of Justice grant will be used to buy the devices and pay for their video storage, with the caveat that the city will chip in the same amount of money.
Police Chief Keith Humphrey said Thursday that officers will begin testing two types of body cameras in coming weeks. After a two-month trial period, the department will choose a vendor and begin writing a policy to put at least 150 cameras on the streets.
"We are still in the early steps of training our officers on the usage and what the expectations are," Humphrey said. "Right now we're in the testing and evaluation stage to see what's best for Little Rock."
The department has been looking to buy body-worn cameras for nearly five years, but funding has presented a problem, said Assistant Chief Alice Fulk, who headed the effort in 2014.
"For transparency purposes, our department has wanted them for a long time," Fulk said. "We have dash cameras with audio, but today the public would like more than that, and the officers want to have them, as well. Funding was an obstacle."
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. campaigned in part on the promise of body-worn cameras for Little Rock officers, and Humphrey spoke highly of the devices during a community forum before he was hired in March.
Little Rock issued a request for proposals from camera vendors April 1, and Humphrey said four vendors submitted proposals. A committee of law enforcement and city personnel narrowed the list from four to two, which officers will begin testing.
Humphrey would not disclose the names of the vendors being considered but said Axon, which recently contracted with the Pulaski County sheriff's office to outfit 235 deputies and employees with the devices, was among the four vendors that initially submitted proposals.
The goal is to buy at least 150 body cameras, Humphrey said. The department has 594 officers and 13 job vacancies, according to information provided after a Freedom of Information Act request. About 230 of those positions are for patrol officers, and about 75 officers are on the streets at any given time, Humphrey said.
With 150 cameras, the department will have enough to outfit two shifts, with officers returning the cameras to their divisions at the end of their shifts.
"There's not too many programs in the nation where every officer gets an assigned camera," Humphrey said. "The good thing about this is all of the officers want them."
Humphrey said he implemented the use of body cameras when he was chief of police in Norman, Okla., and the process took nearly three years. Outside of the initial equipment purchase, a department must write a policy concerning the release of video that is in compliance with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and with existing department policy.
Perhaps the most costly aspect of the cameras is the storage of the video, Fulk said.
"It isn't just the camera, it's the storage," Fulk said. "It depends on what company you go with. Most of them are a cloud-based system, and you're basically paying for storage and a certain kind of storage. The amount varies on when you activate the camera or when they activate themselves."
All body cameras have a manual activation option, but most also have triggers that turn the camera on automatically, Fulk said. Some cameras activate when the lights on the officer's vehicle turn on -- similar to the motor vehicle recording devices at the department -- and others activate when an officer draws his weapon.
Humphrey said he does not yet have a preference on when a body camera should activate, but he plans to institute a policy to hold officers accountable for any interaction that is not recorded.
"If something happens and the camera isn't on, they're going to have to explain why," Humphrey said.
Humphrey said the department will need four to six months of trials and beta testing before body cameras are fully deployed in the city.
Metro on 11/01/2019