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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Highway Patrol troopers have known for years how valuable it is to have dash-cam video.
That's why Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires said they are among the biggest advocates for getting body-cams.
On Thursday, the Department of Public Safety — the state's largest law enforcement agency — announced plans to equip all 560 of its sworn officers statewide with body cameras.
"We really were embracing this technology and seeing the value of it for our applications," Squires said.
UHP troopers have been using dash-cam video since 1999. At the end of 2012, the idea of adding body cameras was first brought to the table, and the department started experimenting with body-cam videos in early 2013, issuing 15 of the devices to troopers.
Even though DPS started looking at body cameras before they became a hot-button issue in Utah and around the nation due to several high-profile incidents — including the fatal officer-involved shootings of Dillon Taylor in Salt Lake City that was captured on an officer's camera, and Darrien Hunt in Saratoga Springs in which an officer was wearing a body camera but didn't have it turned on. Squires said the incidents drew the attention of stakeholders who are needed to help finance the project.
"We see the value of (body cameras) for the public and their understanding and feeling comfortable with how officers are doing things," he said.
Squires said the body-cams will not replace dash-cams but rather be used in conjunction with each other.
We see the value of (body cameras) for the public and their understanding and feeling comfortable with how officers are doing things.
–Keith Squires, Department of Public Safety Commissioner
"We would lose a lot of perspective if we used body cameras only," he said.
Sometimes a body camera video only shows a person's steering wheel because of the way the trooper stands next to a vehicle pulled over. Using both cameras will help investigators get a complete picture of a traffic stop.
Although the UHP will be putting body cameras to use the most, Squires said, the department's State Bureau of Investigations will also ultimately be using them during search warrant executions and other duties.
"The use of body cameras to capture events law enforcement officers deal with everyday is a great asset for any department," he said. “The use of this technology is something I have worked tirelessly to develop since early in my career, and now the time is here to make this a priority when it comes to the safety of everyone concerned."
Currently, UHP administrators randomly select troopers to review their dash-cam video of traffic stops they have made. Squires said that practice will continue with body cameras to help troopers do their jobs better. Supervisors will randomly look at body-cam videos of traffic stops and critique troopers on what they did properly and how they can improve.
There are currently 20 officers within the Department of Public Safety who have body cameras. Squires said he is rearranging his budget to purchase at least 50 more by the end of 2015. Each camera costs between $500 to $1,000, he said. There was no estimate when all DPS sworn officers would be equipped with body cameras.
A larger problem is purchasing the equipment used to store all the video that will be recorded by the troopers, Squires said. If the UHP were to equip all of its troopers at once with body cameras, it would cost an additional $500,000 for the equipment to store the video, he said.
That cost could "climb dramatically," Squires said, as the quality of cameras increases.