KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department anticipates all of its officers to be equipped with body cameras by March.
It is a long-awaited tool that the department hopes will not only help them strengthen community relationships, but also hold their officers accountable.
The department deployed 340 body cameras in November, with the hopes of another 475 in the spring.
Patrol officers in the Central, North, and Shoal Creek divisions have the body cameras.
"It absolutely helps," Sgt. Jake Becchina said. "The public has called for officers to have body cameras long before this summer, but especially this summer and going forward. We are responsible to be accountable to the public."
A grant from the DeBruce Foundation allowed KCPD to upgrade existing dashboard cameras in patrol cars while paying for storage and the new body cameras.
"This is the body camera. Just one click - it comes right off, slides back on," KCPD Officer Oasha White said while showing 41 Action News her body camera.
Every officer is responsible for turning their camera on when they interact with people.
"Here's our mic pack, they go hand in hand, they're synced. I can push this button and it automatically lets this know to start recording," White said. "Or I can activate my lights and sirens in my car and they'll start recording as well."
Officers can view the video inside their car. At the end of their shift, the video is uploaded and saved to their server.
The cameras will need to be replaced in five to seven years, which the department will have to find funding for.
Right now, Becchina said he isn't sure how much it'll cost to keep the body camera program going.
The department contracted with Turn-Key Mobile, which provided the Panasonic brand cameras. Each camera costs $700 to $800.
White said the camera is not hard to use, it's just an extra step that actually makes her job easier.
"Usually it's your side, the citizen's side, and the unknown," White said. "But now that we have the body cameras and they're with us all the time, there won't be that unknown. It will always be what happened, what took place on that time on that call."
An officer is only allowed to turn off their camera in sensitive situations with victims or when they're using the restroom.
Becchina said the department will hold an officer accountable who turns off their camera in any other situation.
"If for some reason that camera footage isn't there, there better, there will have to be a justification, it will be asked for by someone for sure," Becchina said.
The body camera policy is still being written up, with the help of community stakeholders like AdHoc Group Against Crime.
Damon Daniel, executive director, said it's a good first step that is better late than never.
"Hopefully, it will improve transparency and accountability but there's a long way to go as it relates to building trust that has, for a long time, been deteriorating," Daniel said.
Daniel said his primary concern relates to restrictions with the Missouri Sunshine Law. The public can't access the body camera footage if it's part of an ongoing investigation - only when the case is closed, which can take years.
"The public needs to have access. If the public doesn't have access to it in a timely fashion it's not going to have any impact on trust," Daniel said.
Daniel wants legislators to amend the Sunshine Law to make it easier for the public to access body cam footage sooner in instances like an officer-involved shooting. He said that will only come with pressure from the public.
On Tuesday, Kansas City, Missouri Councilman Eric Bunch called for the resignation of KCPD Chief Rick Smith.
Bunch said the process of getting officers equipped with body cameras was taking too long.
Phase 1 of our body-worn camera rollout is complete. Officers in half the city's patrol divisions now have them. The Board of Police Commissioners approved purchase of additional cameras to outfit all patrol officers. All should have them by March. More: https://t.co/V9ESDR8ime— kcpolice (@kcpolice) January 13, 2021
Calls for body cameras began last summer following after community activists protested against police brutality.
They’re waiting on 475 more cameras to come in. @kcpolice anticipates having all officers wearing cameras by March.— Dia Wall (@DiaWall) January 13, 2021
The activists argued body cameras provide important video recordings of officers' encounters with the public.
In June, KCPD Chief Rick Smith announced funding was secured through private donors to purchase the first round of body cameras.
The department released a video demonstrating how body cameras work.