Tribals to debut body cameras in December

MISSION – Tribal police will soon be wearing body cameras to record interactions with the people they contact during their patrols.

The Board of Trustees at a work session Oct. 5 passed a motion to purchase body and vehicle cameras at a cost of $54,747 from Axon Enterprises, a company that also provides body cameras for police departments in Pendleton, Hermiston and Boardman.

“For a number of years, the topic of providing body cameras for our UTPD has been discussed amongst the General Council and Board of Trustees,” Board of Trustees’ Vice-Chairman Jeremy Wolf said. “Cost of the cameras and data storage has been the limiting factor in the past. The combination of reduced cost of the technology and a nation, regional and local outcry for police reform has uplifted our decision to invest how we are both protecting our citizens and our police officers.”

Umatilla Tribal Police Chief Tim Addleman said the contract is for five years, with the option of renewing thereafter. The goal is to have them deployed by Dec. 1, he said.

“The main importance of body camera work is to obtain evidence in criminal cases,” Addleman said. “It also helps out that there have been some complaints against the officers for rude conduct or all sorts of things, say use of force. For the most part (with the new cameras), a majority of the time you’ll be able to see what’s going on, hear what’s going on to make a determination of the professionalism of our officers.”

A request for contingency funds from the BOT covered the cost for each officer and vehicle to possess a camera, according to a Sept. 25 memo from Addleman to the BOT. Wolf further stressed the importance of adding these to the force.

“When concerns arise, we must always seek to look internally first, to ensure we are doing everything we can to correct what we need to and promote what we do well,” he said. “This is why the previous BOT started the internal governance operations assessment as part of our Organizational Excellence goals, and hired an external group, Moss Adams, to assist that evaluation last year. Had hoped that the specific issue of body cams and updated police vehicle cameras would have been promoted as a result of that assessment, which we are finalizing and beginning to utilize now.

“Instead,” he added, “the reasons and decisions surrounding these cameras has justifiably and effectively been elevated, and as a result we were ready to take action quickly and at our own cost. Understand this is not or ever the end of our internal evaluations to always adapt and improve our services.”

Corinne Sams, the BOT’s representative on the Law and Order Committee, said she strongly advocated and helped guide support for the purchase.

“We live in a small community with historical differences between community members and law enforcement,” she said. “I recognize the importance of building trust, transparency, accountability and communication between law enforcement and our community. Moving forward with this initiative ensures our community and officers are safer.

“This is only one of many strategies the Board of Trustees has to improving our communities’ relationship with the Umatilla Tribal Police Department,” Sams added. “Our police chief and officers are also very supportive of these cameras and improving relationships with the CTUIR community. We are committed to continuing to implement more law enforcement best practices tailored specifically for the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the people we serve.”

Addleman thanked the BOT for their support toward the purchase.

“I really appreciate the board and their willingness to get the body cameras for the police department,” he said. “I think they recognize it will be a better service to the community with them.”

Lt. Chuck Byram, the incoming chief of police for the Pendleton PD, stated the cameras have been working great for the city.

“There have been no technology issues whatsoever,” Byram said, noting their Axon cameras have been in use for a year. “As far as accountability issues with officers, we have seen zero issues. That’s because we have robust policies in place that are clearly defined so they know when and when not to activate the cameras and all of that. We haven’t received any complaints. I think anything that provides accountability and transparency is a good thing for the public.”

Tribal PD began testing the technology as early as Sept. 13, according to a Sept. 25 memo from Addleman to the BOT, and “were impressed with the cameras and the (cloud storage). They had good resolution. The cloud worked seamlessly and it was found to be user-friendly, as were the cameras.”

According to the memo, the funding would cover “body-worn cameras for department personnel, 12 patrol vehicles, cloud-based evidence retention and storage, recognition redaction tool, support, installment of vehicle cameras, and training for the first year of the contract.”
Axon Enterprises is regarded as the global leader in connected law enforcement technologies. In early October, the company completed deals with the U.S. Border Patrol and Sarasota, Fla. The memo stated police departments for Pendleton, Hermiston and Boardman are currently using the Axon technology.

“I believe having a camera system that is consistent with our regional partners will seamlessly help in mutual aid, investigations, and evidence,” Addleman wrote in the memo.