Prairie Village police open to idea of body cameras, but say deliberation advisable

Prairie Village police

Leaders of the Prairie Village Police Department this week told members of the city council that requiring body cameras on all active-duty officers had the potential to improve both officer and citizen safety, but said the city needed to carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of such a program before moving forward.

Tasked by the council with exploring the idea several months ago, Chief Tim Schwarzkopf and Capt. Byron Roberson presented findings from their review that painted a mixed picture of the use of body cameras on all officers.

While having body cameras could have the effect of improving the behavior of both citizens and officers during police interactions, as well as providing important evidence in instances where police determine a use of force is necessary, the technology poses sticky questions about privacy and data storage.

“[Body cameras are] not a silver bullet,” Schwartzkopf said. “It’s a very good tool, but it’s not something to go into carelessly.”

The use of cameras by the Prairie Village force is not unprecedented. Prairie Village has utilized body cameras on motorcycle officers and Critical Incident Response Team members since 2013, and has had in-car video cameras since the mid-1990s.

Schwartzkopf and Roberson estimated that Prairie Village would need to purchase 45 camera units at a price of $800 to $1,200 per unit to equip all of its officers. Storing the video from each camera would cost an additional $300 to $500 each year.

Those figures along with the perceived high level of confidence in the department among the community led two members of the council to suggest the benefits at this point didn’t merit the costs.

“I’m not sure we need this here because we do have such a high level of community trust in our police force,” said Councilor Eric Mikkelson.

Councilor Ted Odell said that mandating body cameras “doesn’t make sense for the city with the cost.”

Regardless of how the city may choose to proceed, it’s possible that the state government may make body cameras mandatory in the coming years, Schwartzkopf noted.

“The legislature may force our hand one day and say, ‘You’ve got to do it,'” he said.