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HPD Body Cameras Near Rollout After Months of Delay

November 6, 2020, 5:35 PM HST
* Updated November 7, 9:15 PM
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HPD officer equipped with a body-worn camera. (PC: Hawai’i Police Department)

Starting next week, Hawai‘i Police Department will join the rest of the state in equipping its law enforcement officers with body-worn cameras (BWC).

On Nov. 9, 153 patrol, community policing and traffic enforcement officers will attach BWCs to their uniforms before reporting for duty. The cameras are rolling out in South Hilo, Puna and Kona districts. HPD authorities believe all 270 patrol officers island-wide will be trained and equipped with the Axon Enterprise, Inc. cameras before the end of the year.

“We look at the BWC as being another tool that the officers will have at their disposal to document police-public encounters (e.g. accidents, arrests, critical incidents, etc.) and having evidentiary value for prosecutorial purposes,” stated Police Chief Paul Ferreira in an email to Big Island Now on Friday. “The footage captured by the BWC will provide documentation that can serve to enhance the accuracy of an officer’s report and provide for testimony in court.”

Officers will activate the BWC when they have contact with the public in a law enforcement capacity such as on traffic stops, during arrests, or any call they are assigned to respond to. They will stop the recording once they are done with that incident.

While plans to roll out the program were slated for August or September, HPD’s Body Camera Program Coordinator Sgt. Travis Ing said the COVID-19 pandemic hindered the vendor’s ability to fly out and train the department due to travel and quarantine restrictions.

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“We had to work around that,” Ing said, explaining only a certain number of officers could train at a time due to physical distancing. “It took longer than expected.”

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BWCs for the department has been long overdue. Ferreira said the body camera program was part of the department’s vision before him becoming chief in 2016.

“It was only during the past fiscal year that began on July 1, 2019, that funding was included in our department budget for the program, which included positions and equipment,” Ferreira explained.

In June, Hawai‘i County Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing HPD to enter into a five-year agreement with Axon Enterprise, Inc., which allowed for the acquisition of 340 body cameras and provides maintenance and cloud-based storage at the price tag of $1.8 million.

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“Statistics have shown that BWCs are an effective law enforcement tool that can help to reduce violent confrontations between police and members of the public, as well as reduce complaints against officers,” Ferreira said. “The footage captured by the BWC will provide additional documentation of interactions between police and the public, becoming an important tool in maintaining public trust.”

As a training tool, Ferreira said, the footage captured by the BWC will provide documentation of actual encounters in the various aspects of police work (e.g. traffic stops, domestics, arrests, etc.) for in-service training. The footage captured will also be valuable in making decisions concerning policy and procedural changes.

HPD assures that officers have received training on and will use their discretion in instances where a victim requests not to be on camera and turn it off if asked.

“However, if the situation requires their taking law enforcement action, the camera will be on,” police stated.

All HPD BWC videos will be kept for a minimum of two years. Videos that are tied to or associated with a case will be kept for as long as is necessary until the case is adjudicated.

The public can request footage of an encounter they were involved in through the Police Chief’s Office. While it is not guaranteed the video will be released, police say, all requests will be considered and weighed.

“It is the goal of the Department to enter this new era of technology working with its community to ensure it becomes a safer place to work and live,” authorities stated.

The police department is interested in the public’s feedback regarding this new program. Comments and any additional questions can be emailed at [email protected]

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