Police considering purchase of ‘body cameras, ’drones

By Brady Bauman

Riley County Police Department Assistant Director John Doehling told county commissioners Thursday morning that the RCPD is looking into technology upgrades - specifically in regard to camera and drone devices.

“We currently employ, in all of our patrol cars, video cameras with audio attached to the cars,” Doehling said. “They’re really good for traffic things, pursuits, and in some cases on the street or for DUIs.

“Where the car is pointed is where the camera is pointed, but that’s also the downside.”

Doehling said that although officers still wear microphones that pick up anything around the car, any incidents that happen out of view of the car’s windshield are unseen.

He said a body camera worn somewhere on the head of an officer can increase accountability for the officer and clear up any questions in investigations.

“You’re seeing them (in police departments) all across the country,” Doehling said. “You see what they see.”

Doehling said the RCPD has been experimenting with two head cameras on loan. He showed the commission a video of an officer wearing one during an exercise near Manhattan Regional Airport where there was a mock active shooter who released hostages.

The footage - with complete audio - gave the viewer a first-person perspective of everything the officer was seeing.

“We don’t know yet if we’re going to transition from the in-car cameras to these body cameras,” Doehling said, “but this is a nation-wide trend. It allows officers to record events as they see them and as they deal with them and provides (clarity) when it comes to citizen complaints, because we can see exactly what was said between both parties.

“These cameras leave no question in that regard.”

Doehling said data storage, however, is an obstacle the RCPD will have to consider and evaluate.

He said costs for body cameras where lower than those for in-car cameras, though.

Chairman Bob Boyd jokingly asked if drones were next.

“So when are you going to have a drone attached to the top of your cars?” Boyd asked.

Doehling laughed but said drones are something the department is looking into.

“I would like to get a drone or two,” he said. “Not for the purpose of spying, but I can think of several instances where it would’ve been very helpful (to have one). For instance, there’s the drowning we had at the lake over the winter time.”

Boyd agreed.

“A drone with an infrared (sensor) on it would have found (that person) right away,” he said.

Doehling said they have the personnel to operate them.

“We have the people who can make these things work,” he said. “We haven’t really looked in to see what the cost is, but I’m thinking we might try to do that.”

Commissioner Ron Wells thought they could be helpful to emergency services.

“The police department and emergency services department could utilize them,” he said.

“We joke about them, but they are really something, I think, that have some value,” Doehling said. “You have to use them in the right way and not violate privacy and things like that. It’s something to think about, and we are thinking about it.”

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