By Jack Mayne

The Des Moines City Council recently voted to approve looking at the potential of having all the city’s police use body cameras along with software, cloud services and other backup.

Des Moines Police have purchased two body cameras for a three-month, or perhaps longer test, Police Chief Ken Thomas told the Council at its regular meeting on Dec. 1. The test was approved at the Dec. 2 regular Des Moines City Council Zoom meeting. The cameras will be operational during the test period, but will not be used for evidence in courts until the test period is completed, the chief said.

Estimated start up cost for the department is $45,000, which includes software, licensing, warranty, and supporting cloud storage, the Council was told,

Councilmember Harris lone objector
After an hour of discussion, Mayor Matt Pina moved to go forward with a six=month pilot program of the cameras and support, seconded by Councilmember Luisa Bangs. Councilmember JC Harris was the lone opponent, with all other members supporting a close look at the project and its costs for later discussion and decision.

City Manager Michael Matthias said the Council session considering body cameras was “such an important issue for the Council to consider the different elements of this.” He added that the department and the chief are “absolutely committed to accountability on all levels. I think it’s important to actually go forward with this discussion openly whether it is tonight or whatever point actually make a decision on how to proceed to understand that we have a phenomenal police department. We don’t get these types of complaints that happen elsewhere. I think we are one of the very few communities who had a peaceful protest and, to some degree, that was the function of the demeanor of our police department. It was also the engagement of Deputy Mayor Mahoney and Councilmember Bangs and others opening up the Marina parking lot so it appeared we were welcoming and just a lot of positive things about this community and how we respond.”

City staff training
He said the city should “go forward in a manner of consensus,” understanding the value of the body cameras, understanding the value of perhaps it could enhance public trust. Council was told certain legal and privacy issues would be redacted from a video sought by outside counsel for legal cases when, for instance, attorney’s want the video for a later legal case. City staff would be trained for such activities and eh chief said he would seek one civilian person to hand redactions.

Police Commander Mike Graddon noted the city has used car cameras for about 20 years along with other cameras, plus those in the police interview rooms where besides video, these is audio recorded. Currently there are three cameras in every car. One is a panoramic camera that captures out to the side, a forward camera as well as a camera capturing the view of a prisoner in the back seat.

In a year Graddon said the department had about 25,000 interactions with the population of the city, which includes just over 32,000 people. In the past year there were no complaints concerning the use of force. The cameras show the department is transparent in its actions, he added.

He said the perceived benefits of the body cameras will mean greater accuracy “during event reviews,” enhanced complain documentation and “liability mitigation” plus the cameras could “enhance community trust” and permit “stronger evidence collection.”