Monday, October 13, 2014
Started at about 2 am on Sept. 2, the Spokane Police body camera footage begins with an officer stepping out of a patrol vehicle along Central Avenue in East Spokane. A few streetlights glow overhead as two officers approach a home and listen outside the window for any signs of their suspect, a 42-year-old man accused of assaulting his roommate.
A pair of beeps signal that the officer’s body camera is rolling as he sits outside the window, listening to Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” blaring from a nearby stereo. Officers soon contact the suspect, ask him about his roommate and then arrest the suspect.
Police officials identified this incident as the first arrest captured on a body camera after the department launched a four-month pilot program on Sept. 1 with 17 officers wearing the devices. The Inlander obtained the footage through a records request to see how the cameras perform.
“You're being audio and video recorded right now,” one officer announces as they follow the suspect inside the home during questioning.
"Absolutely, I am,” the man responds.
Officials released more than 30 minutes of footage and we should note we have sped up some parts of the video — mostly because it’s boring, but also to avoid what could be considered unnecessarily invasive dialogue between the suspect and officers.
For a little context, officers responded to this home after the owner showed up in the hospital with assault injuries. The homeowner reported his house guest/roommate had punched him in the face. The victim also alleged the roommate had been drinking and using methamphetamine.
Officers went to the house and asked the man at the door about the owner and his living arrangement. At one point, an officer asks the man to step out on the porch, but he declines. The man soon ducks inside, leading officers to go in after him and detain him in handcuffs. They then read him his Miranda rights on the front porch.
“I want my lawyer right here with me,” the man says. “Right now, and he's invisible and you can't see him and if you ask me one more question, you'll never have anything."
When the man stands up, one officer puts a hand on his chest and sits him back down. Once they confirm charges via radio, they inform the man he is under arrest and walk him to a nearby patrol vehicle.
It’s not anything too exciting, but it stands as an intriguing demonstration of the technology's strengths and weaknesses, which officials have tried to explain to the public in recent months.
The cameras are designed to pick up what human eyes and ears can. They seem to do surprisingly well under night conditions, but may struggle with ambient noise as heard when overwhelmed by Carrie Underwood songs.
Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns says he has not received any public complaints involving the body cameras at this point, but he has heard some positive feedback from officers involved in the pilot program.
“I just don’t see how it could be anything but positive,” he says.
Police officials plan to continue community outreach efforts throughout the rest of this year in hopes of rolling out cameras to the entire department in January. A public forum is scheduled for Oct. 30 at Gonzaga University.