Kalispell Police to Test Body Cameras

City is spending $30,000 to buy cameras for a trial run

By Justin Franz
A Flathead County Sheriff's deputy displays a body-camera. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

A portion of the Kalispell Police Department’s law enforcement officers will soon begin wearing body cameras during on-duty interactions with the public.

On Aug. 15, the Kalispell City Council agreed to spend $30,000 to purchase up to 10 cameras and buy a system to store the footage. Body-worn video cameras have gained widespread public support nationally in recent years following a series of high-profile police shootings, including the 2014 death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager fatally shot by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

The incident prompted the Ferguson Police Department to equip its officers with body cameras.

During the Aug. 15 council meeting in Kalispell, Police Chief Roger Nasset said testing the cameras would allow the department to determine whether they’re the right fit for the officers.

“There are still a lot of unknowns out there about this technology. But one of the things we do expect is legislation will be passed at the state level at some point in the future and so it would be good for us to be ahead of the curve,” Nasset said. “I believe it’s important for us to know more about them. This isn’t a mandate, we just want to see if they’re a good fit for the community.”

Nasset said the biggest expense would be the image storage system. The chief also said that the trial period would give the department time to develop a policy about when to record interactions and how long to retain the footage.

In the past, Nasset has expressed concerns about protecting individual privacy rights, especially since officers frequently enter private homes.

The issue of body-worn cameras arose locally earlier this year when a Kalispell man was shot by two police officers inside his own home. While Kalispell officers are outfitted with audio recorders, neither officer had activated the recorders at the time of the shooting.

Flathead County Sheriff’s deputies have been wearing body cameras since 2015. Sheriff Chuck Curry said the cameras are easy to use and have been helpful in gathering evidence for cases, as well as resolving issues that arise between his officers and members of the public.

“They’ve been very effective for us,” Curry said. “We’re very happy with them.”

Curry said all of the footage recorded by the cameras is stored on a server for a few months before being recorded over with new material. If there is video that law enforcement officials believe may be needed later for a case or claim, that footage is automatically copied to a disk.

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