Each police officer with the West Des Moines Police Department will wear a body camera to record their interactions with the public, starting next month.
The department ordered 72 cameras and will assign a camera to each of its patrol officers.
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Sgt. Adam Porath—spokesman for the West Des Moines Police Department—said the department spent nearly two years on research and training before purchasing the WatchGuard Vista body cameras.
Officers will start wearing body cameras Nov. 1.
“Anytime we go into a situation, having that camera on is more valuable than ever,” Porath said. “Training issues as well. We can go back and review it to see if we can make it better for future use. We are able to see what that person was seeing first hand.”
Porath said footage from the cameras will be stored for 180 days if it considered evidence or 90 days if it is not. Each camera has a 17 hour running battery life if it’s not recording or nine hours of full high-definition recording time.
He said the each body camera is synched with the in-car camera system so when lights and sirens are turned on—or the patrol car reaches a certain speed—the cameras automatically turn on. Officers can also manually turn it on.
The West Des Moines Police Department joins the Des Moines, Ankeny, Urbandale, Johnston, Clive and Waukee Police Departments who already wear body cameras.
Each camera cost $1,050; The total cost was $120,000 including the hardware to store the data but $71,000 came from federally forfeited funds from previous drug investigations.
A paperless office
Matt McCarty of the West Des Moines Police Department said the body cameras are just the latest piece of technology they’re utilizing to make officers more efficient.
With police vehicles switching from the Crown Victoria model to SUV’s, McCarty says police vehicles are now, “mobile offices.” They provide officers with wifi and mobile hotspots so they don’t need to spend as much time at the department.
“We are almost paperless,” McCarty says. “If you wanted to arrest somebody, it used to be six documents all handwritten. Now they write the report on-screen, submit it to the station where it’s reviewed on-screen. We aren’t even keeping hard copies of tickets anymore.”
McCarty said they launched using the West Com Dispatch system about a year ago where departments between Clive, Norwalk, Urbandale, Waukee and West Des Moines all share information.
“That system is based off geo-location so if we are out working patrol and something happens at the police station, it pings the closest car,” McCarty says. “It makes us more efficient, gets cops there faster. That’s a big thing for us.”
McCarty says roughly 100 stop lights in West Des Moines are controlled by computers which can help control traffic during emergency situations. And when an officer deploys their Taser, information can be downloaded to find out how long it was deployed, the time and date.
“And we will be launching this shortly where the public can pull up a neighborhood and see all the crime that has happened over the last day, month or year,” McCarty says. “We can take a radar trailer that shows you the speed, download that data and see if there’s a problem, what times it happens and base our enforcement off that.”
“We are very focused on technology.”
The future of technology in law enforcement
McCarty says drone technology is making its way into law enforcement with, “electronic backup.”
“It’s mounted on a squad car and when the officer gets out, it deploys and follows the officer,” McCarty says. “To provide overhead video so the dispatch center could watch it.”
Porath said when all of the technology is working correctly, it makes everything faster.
“But when the internet goes down or the computer breaks, you are at a stand still,” he says. “So we’ve become more and more dependent on technology, but it’s definitely made us work more efficiently.”