Starting Monday, look closely at the vests of Vancouver Police Department officers and you may see a small, black brick peering back.
Body-worn cameras are debuting at the agency, police spokesperson Kim Kapp said. They arrive after citizens and civil rights groups have for years called for greater police accountability.
“This is a very important milestone our personnel have been looking forward to for some time,” Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori said in a prepared statement Friday. “And one we know the community has also been anticipating.”
Patrol officers will don the devices starting Monday, Kapp said, the first step in a weekslong rollout. Kapp said she expected nonpatrol personnel and others to be outfitted by March 9.
All 220 sworn staff will be issued a camera, Kapp said.
Vancouver’s camera rollout stands in contrast to its neighbor to the south. Portland’s police union and city leaders have been at odds over the rules around body-worn cameras for more than a year. Late last week, each side sent an arbitrator conflicting proposals on how camera footage can be used.
Vancouver police also expect to add cameras to their cars later this year. Plans call for front-facing cameras and cameras focused on backseat passengers. Kapp said “supply chain issues” are delaying installation to the end of 2023.
Public calls for body-worn cameras date back at least to 2019. That spring, Vancouver police opened fire on people four times in a five week span.
Three people died in those shootings. Two — 43-year-old Carlos Hunter, and 16-year-old Clayton Joseph — were people of color. Michael Pierce, 29, was homeless and believed to be in the middle of a mental health crisis when he was fatally shot by police. Vancouver police have shot four more people since then, three fatally.
In 2020, city leaders convened a task force charged to help rewrite dozens of police department policies and to “advise the city” on plans to equip officers with body-worn cameras. It wasn’t until September 2021 that the city and the police union agreed on policies for the cameras.
Last fall, Vancouver City Council OK’d a contract with Arizona-based Axon Enterprises Inc.
According to the contract, the deal includes the 220 body-worn cameras and the vehicle cameras, as well as more than 200 new Tasers, new cameras in the agency’s interview rooms, automatic license plate readers and nine virtual reality headsets that retail for more than $1,000 each.
In the same meeting city officials approved the contract, they also agreed to pay $725,000 to the family of William Abbe, a 50-year-old homeless man whom police shot and killed in April 2020. A bystander recorded the encounter, which factored heavily into the wrongful death lawsuit later filed by his family.