Future of body cams up in the air for Unified Police Department

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Body cameras could be a thing of the past for the Unified Police Department, depending on how its board votes. A previous grant allowed them to provide devices to 125 of their officers. But now, if they decide to keep it, it would cost them approximately $157,000 a year.

In a UPD Board of Directors meeting Thursday morning, Marvin Oliveros spoke to officials about why he wants the department to keep the body camera footage.

“My brother, Cody Belgard was shot by SLCPD November 9, 2018. One of the big things that we’re relying upon is body cam footage within his case,” said Oliveros.

He brought up H.B. 415 in the meeting, a bill passed by the Utah Legislature that bans oversight powers for civilian review boards that were established to review different police agencies. He said the new law went against everything the group Utah Against Police Brutality had been working for. The group said they are anti-brutality, anti-abuse, and anti-misconduct of police.

Oliveros said eliminating body cameras would further hinder accountability with law enforcement.

“When there’s already concern about police transparency and oversight, they’re looking for rolling things backward,” he said.

Sheriff Rosie Rivera said she wanted to clarify her department is not looking at the possibility of eliminating body cameras, but evaluating their body cam program.

“I absolutely understand the emotions from the public,” she said. “Especially when the word went out when we were doing away with the body cameras. But that was not an accurate statement. All it was is that we presented the issue to the UPD board of the issue that the grant ran out and we are going to present a cost to the UPD board.”

She said in order to keep what they currently have, it would cost approximately $157,000 a year. If they were to increase the number of body cams in the organization, it could double or triple the costs. Licensing, software and storage would add additional costs.

“I think that we need to do more gathering of comprehensive data to make a real good decision on whether they’re effective and are they giving the public what they’re asking for,” said Sheriff Rivera. “Are they effective in reducing the amount of officer complaints? Are they effective when we go to court? Are they effective in exonerating an officer? There’s a lot of things we need to research.”

Contrary to popular belief, Sheriff Rivera said body cameras don’t always provide the answers they need in an investigation.

“There’s a whole of things the body cameras don’t pick up. It’s only one view from a body camera. It’s not a panoramic view,” she said. “Sometimes cell phone video from the public is better than body camera video.”

Oliveros thinks the investment is worth it.

“What we have to consider is how much do they spend on every other tool that they use for every officer,” he said. “It should be a standard. They’re equipped with all these tools of lethal force – shotguns, 9mm pistols, less lethal tools that they don’t use quite as often as they should like tasers, batons.”

UPD Detective Kevin Mallory said he had mixed feelings about body cameras.

“When I worked patrol, I did wear a body camera for a good portion of my time on the road. I think that they do provide a certain level of benefit, but they also have some drawbacks as well,” said Det. Mallory. “They are not perfect and they do not necessarily provide all the questions or all the answers that sometimes the public is looking for.”

Sheriff Rivera said they would like to hear from the public. A public hearing will be held on April 10 at 6 p.m. at their headquarters at 3365 South 900 West in Salt Lake City.

“I listen to the public. I really do believe that their input is just as important as my officers and we want to together for a compromise with these body cameras,” she said.

ABC4 News looked into whether other police departments in surrounding areas have body cameras:

  • Herriman Police Department: Yes, for all uniformed officers. They have 21 cameras that they paid $48,500 for the first year. On-going costs are about $4,500 per year.

  • Provo Police Department: Yes, for all uniformed officers.

  • South Jordan Police Department: Yes, for all line-level officers and most of their sergeants

  • Utah County Sheriff’s Office: No.

  • Utah Highway Patrol: Yes, for some troopers.

  • West Jordan Police Department: Yes, for some officers. They have 21 cameras at approximately $70,000 a year in cost.

  • West Valley Police Department: Yes. They have 200 body cameras and pay $274,000 per year. They say the cost is mostly storage.

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