D.C. police chief pushes for officers to wear cameras

Laurel police officer Fillinich demonstrates a body camera Friday morning. The department began using the thumb-sized cameras mounted on eye glasses more than a year ago. (WTOP/Nick Iannelli)

WASHINGTON — A plan to utilize body cameras in the D.C. police department has the green light from a key oversight agency that handles citizen complaints.

The Office of Police Complaints has submitted a report to D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Mayor Vince Gray that states, among other things, body cams could help prevent negative interactions with the public.

Lanier testified in front of the D.C. Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee last Friday, addressing the plan.

“We’re testing different types of technology to see what is most effective for the things that we want to accomplish,” Chief Lanier said. “There are a lot of officers that want to participate because this actually makes officers safer.”

According to Lanier, the department is currently experimenting with a pilot program in which officers volunteer to wear various cameras.

“Once we finish that pilot, then we’ll start making decision on how we’re going to roll it out,” Lanier said. “We would like to have a pretty broad deployment of the cameras.”

The OPC urges the police department to form an advisory panel that would regulate and monitor aspects of the program, including how the video recordings are stored and who can access them.

Useful tool in suburban Maryland

A nearby police department in Maryland has a lot of experience employing body cams.

“It is absolutely a phenomenal program,” says Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin. “We have utilized it for court documentation, we have utilized it for training.”

Laurel police officers have used thumb-sized cameras mounted on eye glasses for more than a year.

Initially the department paid about $2,000 per officer for the system. Over time, the price has fallen to roughly $1,000.

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