Overland Park police looking to deploy 200 body cameras for officers by end of year

Overland Park Police are moving forward with the purchase of 200 WatchGuard VISTA body cameras. Photo credit WatchGuard Video.

The Overland Park Public Safety Committee on Wednesday advanced a police department request to waive the bidding process and approve the purchase of 200 body-worn cameras for use by the Overland Park officers. The item will now go before the full city council for consideration.

The WatchGuard body camera system recommended by police staff would synch up with the in-car dashboard video system the department has been using since 2017, which is also manufactured by WatchGuard. Through the company’s software platform, officers would be able to watch video captured on the in-car and body camera systems simultaneously.

The body cameras will sync up with the dashboard cameras already in use in OPPD vehicles.

Overland Park Police Captain Kyle Livengood told members of the committee that the use of body cameras by officers had a number of advantages.

“Body worn cameras are becoming an industry standard in law enforcement because they enhance prosecution of criminal offenders by capturing additional evidence during investigations, reduce substantiated complaints and civil liability by ensuring audio and video is captured during citizen contacts and enforcement activities and improve performance by identifying training needs,” he said.

Police Chief Frank Donchez said the department expects to have the cameras acquired, deployed and fully operational in the field by the end of this year.

The city council had previously approved the expenditure of up to $750,000 on a body camera system for use by Overland Park police. The acquisition of the 200 WatchGuard cameras and supporting hardware is not to exceed $430,000. The remaining funds will be available for the purchase of an array of data storage infrastructure, which will be used to keep recorded videos on-site for 90 days. City IT staff said they plan to start with approximately 300 terabytes of on-site storage to support the system.

After 90 days, video will be uploaded from the on-site servers to a cloud storage service. The department anticipates spending approximately $60,000 a year on cloud storage related to the video systems.

The cost of storage associated with body camera systems has been a sticking point among smaller police departments considering their use in recent years. Other local police departments that have already implemented early body camera systems have looked to upgrade them over the course of the past couple years.

The department began field testing different WatchGuard camera models in December. Based on the review of department leaders and input from officers who tested the products in the field, the department recommended the purchase of the VISTA HD model.

Livengood said the units will be primarily worn by uniformed officers, but may be worn by plain clothes detectives in some instances.

Some members of the committee inquired about privacy implications with the camera systems. The cameras will record video whenever they are being worn by an officer, but the officer must manually trigger the audio recording system. Asked about how the department might handle the inadvertent recording of sensitive images, police officials noted that the system provides them the ability to redact portions of the video before it would be produced as evidence in court.

Councilmember Logan Heley asked whether the city would be forced to hand over video captured by officers if federal agencies requested it for use in enforcement of immigration issues.

“If Immigration and Customs Enforcement wanted to do a sweep of Overland Park for people who are undocumented here, could they request our video for facial recognition search?” Heley asked.

“They could request it,” Donchez responded. “But it’s up to me to decide whether they get it.”