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Body cameras

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Office Eric Fischer displays the wearable camera campus officers already use while on duty. 

Legislation that began on New Year's Day put an end to the seven-year run Wahoo police had with their body cameras.

The Wahoo City Council voted in December to stop using the cameras after LB1000 required the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice to approve a statewide body-worn camera policy.

Several Nebraska law enforcement agencies voiced their concerns about the policy during a three-hour public hearing in October. The Crime Commission ultimately passed the new policy on a 10-2 vote.

It covers when and how to use a body camera, as well as storage and destruction of video. Local law enforcement departments were given some leeway to modify their policies, as long as they met certain requirements, including:

* Each person who wears a camera or works with the footage should receive training at least once, with the possibility of additional periodic training. 

* Authorities wearing cameras should tell contacts they are recording, when practical. 

* Departments must store all video and audio recordings for a minimum of 90 days, unless they're needed for training or for use in prosecution. 

After reviewing the finalized policy, Wahoo Police Chief Ken Jackson said he realized his small department couldn’t afford requirements regarding training, and storing and destroying recordings.

The legislation, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, allows individual law enforcement agencies to forgo using body cameras rather than meeting the requirements.

"The only way to not spend more money is to not use (cameras)," said Jackson. "If you have confidence in your officers, that they'll report accurately what happens, that's what you do. You stop."

Wahoo police had used cameras for seven years, he said, but didn't use them nearly as much as the new rules require. 

"The more you use, the more video you have to manage and handle and that's where the cost went," Jackson said. "Everybody that uses a body camera and everybody that handles that video needs to be trained in how to run the camera and what is appropriate to release, what isn't. The real cost is in the manipulation of the downloading, the storing, the retractions if it is released, and the destruction."

During the October meeting, some departments expressed concerns that new storing rules would require them to buy upgraded or additional technology.

The cost for Wahoo could have hit more than $15,000, Jackson said.

Before the council voted, Jackson said it reviewed the city's insurance policy and discovered there would be no additional liability or concerns if Wahoo police discontinued using the cameras. 

"The Legislature did what they thought they needed to do," he said. "It pretty well reflects the national mood of legislatures and political bodies."

He reassured Wahoo residents that his six full-time police officers will continue to strive to do good work.

"The cameras made even me kinda lazy," Jackson said. "I don't take as good as notes anymore or write as detailed reports, but the truth is, prosecutors and attorneys are not going to sit down and watch hours and hours of body-camera video, so we still need to do good-quality work and report writing."

Crete Police Chief Steve Hensel, who was originally worried about the new policy, said his officers have been retrained and started wearing body cams again Tuesday after a break to come in compliance with the new law.

"There will be added expenses managing the data; however, I believe the value of the recordings exceeds those costs," he said.

Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang said his officers have been using body cameras 24/7 for two years. While the new policy is costing the department a bit more, it hasn't affected the decision on implementation, he said.

In Lincoln, Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said since the legislation, his department has made several changes to its body-worn camera policy. The department changed storage from a local PC to a server system similar to that used for in-car videos, and all staff responsible for using the cameras and the technology, or their supervisors, received additional training.

The training includes how to use the camera, how to tag data, how to upload and view data, and how to document a malfunction, among other procedures. 

And with the help of multiple resident groups, Bliemeister issued a general policy that matches what the crime commission wants.

The department continues to use the four body-worn cameras it has, Bliemeister said.

In the end, Wahoo's Jackson said he appreciates the thought that went into the policy by the crime commission. 

"But, still, we're a small city and money is limited," he said. "I've never missed an opportunity to remind my state senators that they're the ones that help generate money."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7395 or nmanna@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNicholeManna.

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