Columbia police officers will be doing their jobs under new scrutiny next year as new body-worn cameras are put in place.
After Columbia City Council gave the Police Department the OK to purchase 300 body cams Tuesday, Police Chief Skip Holbrook said Thursday that the first batch should arrive within 30 to 45 days.
“This is an extra layer of accountability and our ability to quickly get to the bottom of problems when they arise,” Holbrook said. “I look at it as an additional tool to further support the professionalism that already exists here.”
In selecting the cameras, Columbia officials aimed to chose a model that accurately reflects what officers see while responding to a situation, Holbrook said. The final choice was the COBAN Echo, made by the same company that makes the dash cams in Columbia patrol cars.
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The entire purchase comes to just under $170,000, Holbrook said. A little more than $79,000 of that will come from the Justice Assistance Grant Program, and the remaining cost will be covered by the Police Department’s camera fund.
Body cams will be worn near the center of each officer’s chest, and footage will be kept for a minimum of 60 days, according to Police Department policy.
Holbrook touched briefly on the tension surrounding scrutiny of police activity and policies across the nation.
“Although we acknowledge it’s a challenging time for law enforcement, it’s a very exciting time in the city of Columbia with our police department,” he said.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin praised the move.
“I will say without reservation that the city of Columbia is a leader, nationally, in the vanguard of changing the culture of policing for the better – keeping all the old things that make men and women in blue proud of the jobs they do, and also adjusting well for this new century in which we all live,” Benjamin said.
State lawmakers, before passing a bill this past spring to provide funding for body cameras, debated the competing issues of transparency, victims’ privacy, the public’s right to know and police agecies’ rights to keep some matters confidential during an ongoing investigation.
In the end, they decided that footage from body cams is not required to be released to the public under the state Freedom of Information Act. Police chiefs may release footage at their discretion.