Salt Lake police chief pushing to put body cameras on his officers

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25 2012 7:42 p.m. MDT

Chief Chris Burbank approached the Citizen's Review Board Thursday to ask for its endorsement of a new proposal to have certain officers wear cameras on their uniforms or glasses — similar to having video cameras on the dashboards of patrol cars.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Calling it the "wave of the future," Salt Lake City's police chief wants to start putting cameras on his officers.

Chief Chris Burbank approached the Citizen's Review Board Thursday to ask for its endorsement of a new proposal to have certain officers wear cameras on their uniforms or glasses — similar to having video cameras on the dashboards of patrol cars.

Body cameras would document the officers' actions, he said. They could be extremely useful in incidents such as officer-involved shootings to show the public and investigators what happened.

"For me, that is exactly how we should be open and transparent," he said.

The board gave Burbank's proposal an enthusiastic approval after posing questions about cost, durability and officers' opinions of the cameras.

Cal Noyce, a member of the Citizen's Review Board representing Jordan Meadows, said he thinks the program would also benefit citizens and assist the board.

"As we review cases, I can see where this would help immensely when there is disagreement between what an officer says he did and a complainant," he said. 

Noyce added that he would support the use of body cameras as long as citizens' privacy concerns are kept in mind.

Burbank said Salt Lake police officers are also supportive of the body cameras. So far, they have been field tested by motorcycle officers and have provided useful footage while withstanding wind and weather.

The lightweight body cameras aren't cheap, he said. The camera Burbank demonstrated to the board Thursday costs about $1,000 and was attached to a set of "cool looking" Oakley glasses. 

Another cost will come through servers to store the footage and maintain a place to house them, he said.

The high-resolution cameras feed wirelessly to a small receiver worn by the officer and future models may be able to stream live footage to a command center. The footage is dated and watermarked to prevent tampering and provides a detailed record of police activities.

"You film all the evidence, you film where it's at, you document what the officer is saying and it becomes a very accurate record," Burbank said.

Thursday's visit to the Citizen's Review Board was one stop on what Burbank calls an "aggressive timeline" toward implementing the body cameras in the Salt Lake Valley. He will be meeting with the 14 other police chiefs in the Valley Police Alliance in hopes of getting more departments on board.

Burbank told the board he is so confident about body cameras that he put a stop to petitions for dash cameras in his department. A vehicle camera is only effective for traffic stops, whereas a body camera would capture footage as it "goes wherever the officer goes," he said.

On-the-scene footage will document officers' actions as they perform patrols, search crime scenes and serve search warrants, the chief said. He assured the board the recordings would demonstrate positive police work, but would also provide documentation in cases of officer error.

Burbank said the Salt Lake County district attorney's investigation into a Sept. 27 officer-involved shooting at a downtown TRAX station demonstrates when body camera footage would have been beneficial.

"I don't view this as a tool to catch my officers doing something wrong, I view this as a tool to document the great work that they do," he said. "To have this medium there, to have this whole thing documented is not a threat to me at all because I'm very confident in how we do business."

Burbank said he will be speaking with different body camera vendors and hopes the support of more departments could increase buying power.

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com, preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: @McKenzieRomero, DNewsCrimeTeam

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