COEUR d'ALENE - The Coeur d'Alene Police Department has spent $36,500 on "body cams" for 40 patrol officers.
The Vievu brand "point-of-view" cameras, which run $875 each, are intended to record as evidence what an officer sees in the line of duty. The cell-phone sized cameras are worn on the front of an officer's shirt.
They are effective, said Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh.
"The video and audio recorded by an officer with these devices can provide the most accurate depiction of what happened and what was said," he said.
McHugh said the technology can provide critical information about a person's condition at the time of a discussion with officers, and minimizes confusion or conflict about what went down.
"All this information is valuable to prosecutors in evaluating cases and presenting cases at trial," McHugh said. "Also, the recordings provide information useful in evaluating accusations of officer misconduct by accurately memorializing the incident."
Coeur d'Alene police spokeswoman Sgt. Christie Wood said the cameras are used by police agencies across the country.
She said police studied the use of the cameras for the past two years, and tried out different types before selecting the Vievu model. Police technicians sought reliability, ease of use, and optimum audio and video quality.
Coeur d'Alene police have been using dashboard video cameras in patrol vehicles since the 1990s.
But, Wood said, there are times when an officer isn't directly in front of a patrol vehicle.
Maj. Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department said patrol deputies for the county are issued the cameras as a regular part of their equipment.
"We have had them for a few years," he said. "They are helpful" with prosecutions and for responding to citizen complaints.
Some Post Falls police officers have worn them for the past two years. The department has eight of the devices.
"From my perspective, body-worn cameras are an excellent tool that provides an additional layer of transparency for both the officer and the public," Post Falls Police Chief Scot Haug said.
He added, "We have plans, this upcoming budget year, to purchase a body-worn camera for all of our sworn employees."
He said every law enforcement agency should be utilizing the technology.
"The technology is tremendous in prosecuting criminal activity, it assists in protecting the officers from false accusations and also identifies shortcomings on the part of the officer and provides a framework for improving our level of service to our customers," he said.
Mike Berg, North Idaho College Basic Patrol Academy director, said, "It's a great idea and a great piece of technology."
Berg, who is retired from law enforcement, spent nearly 32 years in Napa, Calif., as a police officer and more than two years in Kosovo as an international police officer for the U.S. Department of State.
He said dashboard cameras in police vehicles, and audio recorders used by police have proved valuable for years.
"I would expect that the body cams would do the same," he said. "The uses are limitless."
Idaho State Police troopers don't use the technology.
ISP spokesman Bill Edwards said, "It's not anything that's on the horizon" for the agency.
For what state troopers do daily, traffic stops primarily, the body cams aren't practical, he said. In the case of a city police department, which would handle more of what he called domestic calls, the cameras would make more sense, he said.
"The dash cameras take care of most everything" for ISP troopers, he said.
Steve Lovell, managing director of Vievu in Seattle, said their systems have been deployed in over 2,000 law enforcement agencies.
He said the cameras "capture the 95 percent of police activity that occurs away from the patrol car."
This image was taken from one of the Vievu body cams, according to Vievu managing director Steve Lovell, in Seattle. It shows a real incident where a man armed with two knives told officers, "Shoot me, I have nothing to live for." Officers ended up deploying a Taser and resolved the incident without lethal force, Lovell said. "They were professional and abided by their department policies.," Lovell said.