WYOMING, Mich. -- Despite the cost, more police departments are using body cameras since 2013 when the National Institute of Justice surveyed and reported 75 percent of police department nationwide were not using them. Now a major body camera manufacturer offered a one-year free body camera trial for all U.S. police officers.
Wednesday the company Axon, formerly Taser International, announced it would outfit every U.S. officer with a body camera and its corresponding technology including unlimited data storage at no cost for one year.
“I think you could always look at a certain situation where you would say maybe a body camera would have been helpful in this case to see what would have happened, and vise versa," said Captain Kim Koster with the Wyoming Police Department.
“Right now our assessment is that what we have is working fine.”
Koster says Wyoming PD is continuing to assess whether body cameras are a viable option, like many smaller departments. However, for the last decade Koster says their dash camera and microphone system is working: 32 patrol vehicles are equipped with a dash camera and every officer wears a microphone.
The system was beneficial when it recorded a deadly officer-involved shooting last Sept. 7, capturing footage of the suspect pointing a stolen handgun at the officer, Koster recalled.
At the moment Koster says the department has already spent about $60,000 to upgrade about half their fleet's cameras into high-definition. They will also be replacing their current 900-foot reaching microphones with an enhanced 1,400-foot reach. Looking ahead at body cameras, they are leery of the high cost and do not want to stop using their current system.
“We continuously assess new equipment, new technology, but with that comes cost, and there are some significant costs with this program," said Koster.
Many police departments cite the high cost of deploying body cameras, as well as ongoing ethical concerns. Organizations like the ACLU address best practices while using body cameras including: asking crime victims whether they want to be recorded, and turning the device off if not.
With growing demands for transparency, many larger police departments are using body cameras, like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and Kalamazoo. Yet departments like Wyoming believe body cameras are not necessarily the only option to gain transparency and trust with their communities.
“I think we have a good amount of trust between us and our community, and we really need to spend our public safety dollars on that, on programs that increase community involvement and trust," said Koster.
Meanwhile, officials with the Michigan State Police tell FOX 17 they know of Axon's announcement and are not using body cameras but continue their research. During 2015-2016, troopers in southeast Michigan and members of the Capitol Security Section evaluated body cameras. They say the video was useful but also found deficiencies.