The city of Hermiston spent $70,000 in late 2014 to give its police department body-mounted video cameras for officers. The contract for the cameras, data storage and records management expires at the end of five years.
Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said he recognizes the cost to the city was significant, but the 12 Axon Flex cameras continue to deliver and he hopes the city re-ups the agreement.
Hermiston Police Department has 27 officers, but the 17 in the patrol division have to wear the cameras, plus the four sergeants share one. The sergeants spend part of their shifts in the office, so they do not need individual cameras. Edmiston said that helps cut down on costs.
Cam footage has revealed “when we haven’t always put our best foot forward,” Edmiston said, and those videos provide valuable teaching tools for improvement. The cameras also have exonerated officers.
Right off, he recalled an incident in late May 2015 when officers had to deal with a transient near City Hall. Two officers tried to get him to leave, yet after several attempts the man refused and flicked a lit cigarette at police.
“That was it,” Edmiston said. “He was under arrest for offensive littering.”
As an officer tried to handcuff him, the chief said, “he reared back and head-butted a pane glass window.”
The window did not shatter, and police took the man to the ground, where he began head-butting the sidewalk. A third officer rushed over and put his boot under his head to keep the man from hurting himself.
Police cameras captured the ordeal and a Hermiston woman watched it unfold from a distance. She contacted Edmiston because she thought she saw police kick the man in the head and considered taking her story to the media.
“I let this lady explain to me what she saw,” Edmiston said. “Then I played the video for her.”
He said he told her it was OK to think she saw what she saw, but the video showed what really went down.
Hermiston officers with the cameras also use “Signal Sidearm,” technology that senses when an officer pulls their gun from the holster. The holster sensor turns on the officer’s camera and the cams of nearby officers. The technology means officers in those stressful moments do not have to think about flipping on cams.
“It’s great because any time we’re pulling our guns out it’s a heightened situation,” Edmiston said. “Why wouldn’t we want our cameras rolling?”
Camera footage has come into play in criminal investigations and prosecutions, he said, and Hermiston Municipal Court Judge Thomas Creasing has asked to see footage.
“Any judge is going to want as much information as possible to make decisions,” Edmiston said.
Local departments have cameras in their police vehicles, but Boardman is the only other local agency to use body cams. Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts maintain he would like to bring on the cameras, but the cost is prohibitive.
The basic recording system — from the cameras to data storage — would run a bit more than $70,000, Roberts said, “but to do it right would be about $100,000.” And Pendleton has more pressing needs, such as keeping its fleet of police cars running.
“I can’t think of a week where we did not have at least one if not two cars red-lined or in the shop,” Roberts said, and that costs “eats up an entire line item in our budget.”
The department has applied for a federal grant to cover the cost of body cams, but Roberts said he was not holding out hope for success. Similar efforts did not secure the crucial funds.
The Pendleton chief also said some departments, including Boardman and Hermiston, jumped into the camera use early, when companies were offering sweet deals. Some departments nationwide are finding subsequent contracts pack much higher costs, Roberts said, and are dropping their camera systems in spite of their obvious benefits.
Edmiston pointed out Hermiston, Pendleton and other local law enforcement contract with the company Lexipol to provide policy and procedure manuals and training, and Lexipol has increased its price 40 percent in the last three years. But Lexipol’s team of lawyers keep up with “all the crazy case law” that comes out of federal courts and does a good job of updating the information, so departments pay. Otherwise, he said, some city attorney would shoulder that work load.
Edmiston said he expects the next contract for the body cameras to come with higher costs, but he does not see Axon asking for a significant increase, but rather something moderate. And hopefully, he said, even minor.