Meridian Police Department outfits officers with new body cameras

The Meridian City Council approved $91,000 last fall to equip police officers with body cameras, and the department began distributing them to officers last month, Meridian Police Deputy Chief Tracy Basterrechea said.

Some departments in the Treasure Valley have been using body cameras for years, while others have just begun. The Ada County Sheriff’s Office began using them last summer.

“We took our time in rolling these out,” Basterrechea said. “So far, it’s going pretty well.”

The cameras, attached to uniforms or glasses, are seen by many police agencies, politicians and members of the public as a key tool in documenting officers’ actions on the job. The U.S. Department of Justice on May 1 announced a $20 million body camera grant program to help departments purchase them.

The right policies need to be in place for the cameras to be effective, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has concerns about potential invasion of privacy and notification, control and retention of recordings.

Canyon County deputies began using body cameras eight years ago and the Nampa Police Department outfitted its officers four years later. Ada County deputies obtained body cameras last year. Idaho State Police troopers have dashboard cameras in their patrol cars but do not use body cameras.

Boise Police Department officers make audio recordings of all enforcement contacts but don’t use cameras. Department officials do believe the cameras can be valuable tools and are studying available technology, examining policies and evaluating costs, spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said Wednesday.

All 73 uniformed officers in the Meridian Police Department will wear the body cameras by the end of the summer. So far, 20 to 25 of the officers are using them.

Meridian police will activate their cameras for all enforcement interactions, including traffic stops.

“Most contacts will be recorded,” Basterrechea said.

Officers are not legally required to notify the person they are recording when they activate the device. All video recordings will be kept for a minimum of 210 days, and some might be kept as long as 100 years, officials said.

Meridian’s department has purchased the cameras from Taser International, and they’re also using that company for data storage. The Ada County Sheriff’s Office also chose to contract with Taser International.

The cost per camera is about $140. The estimated annual data storage cost will be $45,000.

At the end of each shift, officers will download their videos. They will not be permitted to edit or otherwise alter any video.