The Ada County Sheriff's Office will ultimately equip 70 on-duty patrol deputies with body cameras, which, including data storage costs, carry a total price of about $800 each.
On a sunny September morning in 2012, Christian Nicholas Buquet was sitting in a car parked outside a brick-faced apartment building near 11th Street and Lakeside Avenue in Coeur d'Alene. Witnesses later said they saw a female behind the wheel and another man in the back seat. At about 11 a.m., 19-year-old Buquet stepped out of the passenger-side seat and fired two shots from a semiautomatic handgun at the man in the back of the car. The driver and the victim, 29-year-old Frank James, ran from the vehicle while Buquet jumped in the driver's seat and sped off--firing at three bystanders along the way. No bystanders were injured, though James had been shot in the chest.
Buquet, who was arrested in 2011 for attempted robbery, led Coeur d'Alene police on a high-speed chase through the city--firing out of his car window at officers--until losing control on a winding lakeside road nearly 7 miles outside of town.
As four officers stopped to engage Buquet, he continued firing. Police returned fire, ultimately hitting Buquet and his vehicle with more than 70 rounds. He died on the scene.
The chase and shootout were captured by body cameras worn by officers with the Coeur d'Alene Police Department--a technology that had been rolled out about a month before. According to CAPD Sgt. Bill Tilson, the cameras allowed the incident to be viewed from multiple first-person perspectives, going a long way toward enabling the Kootenai County Prosecutor's Office to conclude in February 2014 that the shooting was justified.
"It's as close as we can get to, 'Here's what the officer saw,'" Tilson said. "There's just a ton of examples like that."
The Ada County Sheriff's Office is joining CAPD as the latest Idaho law enforcement agency to equip officers with body cameras--in the case of ACSO, the Taser Axon model, which clips to a deputy's shirt front. Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney said the technology builds on 30 years of increasing sophistication: first audio recording, then in-car video.
"In-car was getting end-of-life, so rather than spend money on replacing those, we decided to go on-body," he said, adding that "a lot of times, whatever the activity is takes place outside of the in-car video." Specifically, only about 11 percent of a given scene is captured due to the fixed view of the car camera.
"We'll be able to capture whatever we want to capture whenever from a deputy's perspective," Raney said.
Ada County began incorporating the body cameras on July 31, with plans to equip deputies with the technology five at a time each week until all 70 on-duty patrol deputies have a camera.
Priced at $200 apiece, the pager-sized cameras record an MP4 video file that is uploaded to ACSO's servers. Data storage is the biggest expense, costing about $800 per camera. Taken together, that's $70,000--in line with replacing the in-car video systems, Raney said.
"I think it's going to help the deputies," he said.
The technology is also meant to help members of the community by providing more transparency and officer accountability--that is, if the right policies are in place.
"We believe that body-mounted cameras can both protect the officer and the citizen," ACLU of Idaho Interim Executive Director Leo Morales told Boise Weekly in an email. "The cameras should be turned on at all times when the officer has an encounter with the citizen in the public domain. If officers are allowed to use their discretion of when to turn on or turn off the camera, then this discretion can lead to creative editing of what they film."
Morales went on to state that video editing should be prohibited or "clear standards should be set to ensure it doesn't violate the rights of individuals involved, and data storage policies should not only be consistent among law enforcement agencies across the state, but members of the public must be able to access videos."
When the Spokane Police Department, in Spokane, Wash., drafted its body-camera policy, the ACLU of Washington took exception to a number of its data storage, image editing and recording guidelines. Regarding the latter, it should be noted that Washington requires both parties to consent to being recorded. Idaho has no such law.
"Please don't compare us to Spokane. They have some problems," Raney said, referring to the department's longtime issues with use of force and community relations.
"If you were to send us a public records request ... we could go and, if proper, blur the faces," he said. "They're public record, with exceptions. People will be able to access that. We're not afraid of that."
ACSO's body-cam policy directs deputies to record all vehicle pursuits, traffic stops, investigative contacts, confrontations, use of force, crimes in progress, enforcement activities and "any situation or event that the deputy through training and experience believes should be recorded."
The cameras are not to be turned off until a situation has concluded, unless "continued recording is of no value" for a variety of reasons. Before deactivating a camera, policy directs that a deputy state the reason for turning off the camera.
Once uploaded, deputies don't have the ability to edit video, and files will be stored for at least two years--in perpetuity "if it's really serious, like a murder," Raney said.
Those policies are similar to the ones in place at the Coeur d'Alene Police Department, where Tilson said the technology has greatly improved officers' ability to respond to community complaints.
"If someone complains about a rude officer, we can now look at the video and make a determination," he said. "It's a valuable tool for law enforcement, it really is."
For Raney's part, he looks forward to being able to showcase the work of his deputies.
"It's a great PR tool. It's a great validation tool," he said. "We don't just write tickets and track down criminals; we do a lot of other things."