CARSON CITY — A state lawmaker said Monday that equipping police officers with body cameras could resolve disputes over allegations of unreasonable force before they morph into civil unrest as happened with a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, last year.
Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, testified in support of Assembly Bill 162 that would mandate the use of the cameras by most law enforcement agencies in the state.
“The bill will not solve all of our problems between law enforcement and the community they protect,” he said. “However it is a start.”
Outfitting Las Vegas police with the technology would be expensive, however, and could jeopardize the prospects for the bill.
A fiscal note from the Metropolitan Police Department says it would cost $9.2 million in the first year to buy the cameras for all Las Vegas police and Clark County Detention Center employees. Recurring charges are estimated at $6.6 million annually, a cost which would increase as the amount of required video storage increased.
Testimony from the the agency suggested that it is premature to rush out and purchase the technology for all officers. Law enforcement agencies should instead be required to develop policies and procedures regarding the use of the equipment first.
The agency also said the bill is too broad because it would require cameras to be used by detectives and undercover officers.
A third concern is the potential for excessive public information requests of the video. Metro wants requests to be limited to specific incidents and not allow for blanket requests. There is also a need to restrict the release of video showing a juvenile offender or a victim of a crime, such as a sex assault.
There also needs to be an ability to turn the camera off in some situations, such as when a witness saw a drive-by shooting and did not want to talk on camera, but the issue can be addressed in policy rather than the bill, the written testimony said.
Chuck Callaway, representing Metro, said the agency supports the bill with the proposed amendments, and said the cameras have already been used to resolve some disputes in favor of the agency.
No one spoke in opposition to the bill, but law enforcement and government agencies endorsed it only with the proposed amendments.
Callaway said Metro has 200 cameras now that are being worn by officers as part of a two-year study to determine their effectiveness. The study, which involves 200 other officers who are not wearing the cameras as a control group, and the cameras themselves, were paid for with a grant from the Department of Justice. The study is through its first year.
Callaway said the agency is purchasing another 500 cameras from its More Cops fund. Cameras have to be used by new officers, but those employed prior to July 2013 have to volunteer to wear the equipment, he said. More officers are wearing the cameras because they see the value of it, Callaway said.
Vanessa Spinazola, legislative and advocacy director for the ACLU of Nevada, endorsed the concept of the cameras but noted a number of issues that need to be addressed, from privacy concerns when an officer enters a private home that is not a crime scene to ensuring that any videos cannot be manipulated or prematurely erased.
“With the right policies in place, policy body cameras can be a win for all, helping protect the public against police misconduct and at the same time helping to protect the police against false accusations of abuse,” she said in her written testimony.
No action was taken on the bill.
Contact Sean Whaley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801
See all of our coverage: 2015 Nevada Legislature.