Officers of the Federal Way Police Department are now sporting body-worn cameras, and the department hopes to have all uniformed members wearing the cameras by Feb. 1.
In June 2021, the Federal Way City Council approved the implementation of body cameras for all uniformed Federal Way personnel, including school resource officers, animal services and jail transport officers. The council approved the purchase of 143 body worn cameras for the department the following month.
As of Jan. 11, about 40 officers are wearing body cameras by Axon, a public safety company. Axon is one of the country’s largest providers of body worn cameras and also outfits the Kent, Tukwila and Auburn police departments with cameras.
The Federal Way Police Department estimates 90 to 95 patrol officers will be wearing body cameras by Feb. 1.
“I think it can help increase the transparency in police departments,” said Cmdr. Casey Jones, who has been wearing a body camera since late December. “The people will be able to see more about police procedure, police contacts. It’s a good insight into what we do on a daily basis.”
The first year of the body worn camera program will cost $942,761, including personnel expenses. The city expects the five-year cost of the program to be $2,190,477.
The cameras, worn on the officer’s chest, record video and audio footage and store the footage for review. Officers manually start the recording by pressing a large button on the camera.
If a Taser or an officer’s gun is used, sensors on the holster trigger the individual’s body camera — and the camera of every officer in a 10-15 yard proximity — to begin automatically recording.
Body cameras also capture the 30 seconds of footage prior to the officer pressing record. An officer is permitted to have the camera on “sleep mode,” or not recording, when at the station. Otherwise, the cameras are recording when officers respond to incidents or make police contacts.
The footage can be used in trial, or to look back at specific scenes for more information, and officers can take photos of evidence at crime scenes, Jones said.
“If there were footprints on the ground or the stolen stereo right there, you can take pictures and put the tag on it for the case number,” he said.
The fish lens-style view offers a wide scene perspective with clear image quality and audio. Cameras are built to last for the duration of the officer’s 10-hour shift.
Officers of the department are liking the new cameras and hope the cameras build trust where there wasn’t any before, Jones said.
“I know it’s not an end-all, be-all,” he said, “but it’s a step in the right direction.”
The department has scheduled trainings throughout the month in order to have all officers donning the body cameras by February. The typical one-day training takes about eight hours, said Cmdr. Kurt Schwan.
Videos are sorted in the software under categories of homicide, traffic stop, training, civilian interaction and misdemeanor, among many others. The software also allows photos or video captured by citizens to be added to the case file.
Footage from the body cameras is retained for a certain amount of time depending on the incident.
“Everything depends on what happens in the situation,” Schwan said. For example, footage containing misdemeanor crimes is kept for five years, incidents involving DUIs are kept for 10 years, and homicide or traffic fatality incidents are kept for 99 years.
At a July 20 meeting, the Federal Way City Council approved the program’s initial cost to be paid from the Traffic Safety Fund.
“The possibilities for Federal ARPA program funding does get attention,” said Steve Groom, finance director for the City of Federal Way. “We are proceeding cautiously, keeping options open where possible.”
Groom said the city is prioritizing the recovery and restoration of the city’s fiscal health and financial stability while working with the city council to authorize one-time expenses for the one-time revenue source of ARPA funds.
In September 2021, the Federal Way City Council approved Mayor Jim Ferrell’s motion authorizing the hiring of 13 more officers to the department. The total number of authorized officers is 150. As more officers are hired to meet the 150 mark, the body camera program’s cost will increase slightly, Groom said.
“We factored in training and equipment for new positions, but the incremental per-officer costs are minimal,” he said.