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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.
AMERICAN FORK — Salt Lake City police chief Chris Burbank wants to put "body cameras" on his officers, but American Fork officers have been using the cameras for years.
For officers they say it's just another layer of security — to keep them safe, and to make sure what happens is recorded.
Every time Lt. Sam Liddiard deals with the public, he knows he's being watched.
For the past 5 years, the American Fork police department has been equipping it's officers with the cameras. It looks like a normal walkie-talkie, but it's also a video camera, and any time an officer deals with someone, they're required to be recording.
"It's amazing how technology is just advancing so fast,a nd so poice departments have to take advantage of the technology that's out there," Liddiard said.
At first, some didn't like the idea.
"Obviously, some of the older officers were like, 'Big Brother is watching over my shoulder,'" Liddiard said. "But once they realized that the camera cleared them on more incidents than complaints …"
The cameras don't have a memory card. You have to physically plug it into the main computer server to download. Officers can't edit or delete the video, and they also don't have access to it once it's on the server.
Lt. Liddiard says if an officer is not being professional, they want to know about that as well.
Liddiard said in the five years the cameras have been in use, though, they have only had to be used to clear an officer's name — not the other way around.
"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.
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.