Twin Falls police will have a new tool in their arsenal beginning next month beyond their guns and handcuffs: body cameras.
The City Council this week approved a $127,500 contract with the familiar Taser company, which will equip the department with 60 cameras. Several officers will begin wearing them next month.
What’s that mean for policing in Twin Falls? Depends on who you ask.
Police studied the potential effects for nine months, gathering feedback from departments that already use them and assessing what might change on the Twin Falls force should cameras be adopted. In the end, the department elected to pursue the cameras, saying they’ll better help document evidence.
More important, perhaps, is the effect they’ll have even when they’re not capturing footage of a criminal act. In theory, the cameras are expected to make officers more accountable, since they know the cameras are capturing every interaction. And they’re expected to make the public more civil in their dealings with police, for the same reason.
Still, cameras won’t solve everything. Think about all the people shot by police in just the past few weeks, shootings that were captured on cellphone cameras even when police know they were being filmed. And cameras did nothing to stop the fatal shootings of police in Dallas and Louisiana.
Further, equipping officers with cameras raises a mountain of questions about access to the footage (can anyone request to see it, just like other public records?) and how it might be used to prosecute crimes. Police say the cameras will be rolling even when officers are on private property, without a warrant, say, in a home investigating a domestic dispute.
From now on in Twin Falls, anytime you see a cop, you can expect that you’re being filmed.
Not surprising, not everyone is thrilled by that notion. Count Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs among the doubters. He says police camera footage might actually hurt as many cases as it helps. And he worries the cameras might harm the police’s relationship with the public, especially if people are reluctant to talk with police because they don’t want to be filmed.
Only time will tell.
In the meantime, we support the initiative by Twin Falls police to adopt the cameras. We’ll always advocate for having more information than less in criminal investigations, and we believe police when they say the cameras will help officers develop a more transparent, accountable and professional police force.
Again, we encourage the Idaho Legislature to take a leadership role and develop a universal policy for Idaho’s law enforcement agencies. Rules for cameras already differ from one city to the next, and it’s only a matter of time before agencies find themselves in court having to defend their camera rules.
Law enforcement agencies from across the state met late last year and called on lawmakers to move quickly.
Rather than allowing the courts to shape the law piecemeal, one case at a time, the Legislature should set firm the state’s rules on body cameras and what falls under the state’s open records laws, just as it has for other law enforcement tools.