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The Arvada Police Department has signed a $2.8 million contract to purchase body-worn cameras for its officers in an effort to become compliant with Senate Bill 20-217, which requires all law enforcement agencies in Colorado to have body-worn cameras by July 2023. Assuming there are no delays, APD will deploy 203 body-worn cameras by July 2022.

APD does not currently have body-worn cameras — a fact that led to increased scrutiny during the Olde Town Square shooting last summer. The contract for the cameras is with Axon, a vendor APD Commander Betsy Westbrook described as “willing to support the Arvada Police Department in the long term,” at a March 28 Arvada City Council meeting.

The police department secured a Colorado Department of Public Safety grant of $235,000 that will help offset the cost. SB 20-217, which was passed in June 2020, is an unfunded mandate, meaning the state has no onus to help law enforcement agencies with the cost of body-worn cameras.

APD’s contract with Axon is a package that includes body-worn cameras, mounts for the camera, docking stations and new tasers for the department.

Arvada Police Department Public Information Officer Dave Snelling said tasers were included in the package because they have a shelf-life and the department is due to refresh its equipment.

“Tasers have a working life that makes them somewhat perishable,” Snelling said. “This was a fiscally responsible thing to do. The updated device ensures more suspect safety if they have to be used. The new technology has more safeguards.”

The 203 cameras will be divvied up between officers serving in different capacities within the department, including the patrol officers, school resource officers and neighborhood services team.

The body cameras will have livestream capabilities and come with unlimited storage.

“Every piece of data has to be stored somewhere,” said Westbrook, who mentioned that the department was hiring two digital media technicians, two digital records specialists and one evidence technician to help handle the workload that comes with managing the cameras’ content.

Administrative Sargeant Chris McCoy said the body-worn cameras will be on at all times unless there is cause for them to be turned off, such as the officer entering the APD locker room.

“They’re on all the time unless there’s a specific reason for it to be off, rather than they’re only going to be on when there’s a specific reason for it to be on,” McCoy said.

Westbrook said her team surveyed other police departments in Colorado that have already implemented body cameras to see what worked and what didn’t within their programs. APD has had 10 body-worn cameras on officers as a trial run since Nov. 1, capturing one officer-involved shooting in the process.

Westbrook said the footage of the officer-involved shooting helped shed light on the officer’s actions during the event.

“This footage is very graphic. It’s exceptional quality. It shows our officers multitasking in the most extreme situations,” Westbrook said. “This is going to be something that’s very important, not only for our partners but for the community.”

Although the cameras provide increased transparency, Snelling said the footage they capture should still be considered within the context of the event.

“It’ll be a case-by-case basis. Even though we’ll have body camera video from an officer, I’d caution the community that it still might not tell the whole story about exactly the situation the officer was in,” Snelling said.  

Westbrook said that although the body-worn cameras were required for the department to be in compliance with SB 20-217, they were nonetheless motivated by internal factors to outfit officers with the devices. She said the price tag with Axon is higher than other vendors offer, but department leaders believed it was a sound investment going forward.

“Just because the Senate bill and the legislature has mandated that the Arvada Police Department have cameras, doesn’t mean that we’re going to approach this important project half-heartedly,” Westbrook said. “We look at this project and body cams themselves as an opportunity for citizens, for supervisors and peers to have the ability to showcase the good work that they do — the excellent quality of police work our citizens have come to expect.

“Frankly, they’re expensive; however, they provide, from the research we have done, top quality customer service not only on the front end and the research and purchasing and implementation of the cameras, but on the back end with customer service concerns later,” Westbrook continued.

Arvada Mayor Marc Williams said while he once felt the police department didn’t need body cameras, he was now excited for the increased transparency they have the potential to bring.

“I’ve been quoted in the past that I didn’t really think this was something Arvada needed because of the quality of our officers,” Williams said. “I’m not to the point of saying, ‘I want it for the protection of our officers,’ because false allegations get made.

“I think this is going to be an opportunity in some sad and unfortunate circumstances where our officers are going to be vindicated for the actions they take,” Williams continued.

Snelling echoed Williams’ sentiment and said he was glad the community would be able to see what APD officers do on a daily basis.

“We’re looking forward to this one more piece of transparency and that we’ll be able to share with our community what our police officers go through on a daily basis,” Snelling said.