BOZEMAN — In part two of a three-part series about body cams for law enforcement officers in Montana, MTN News spoke with the Bozeman Police Department, an agency that does not have body-worn cameras on police officers yet.
At the end of 2020, the Bozeman City Commission approved a Capital Improvements Program that lays out a blueprint of major funding projects for years to come.
That includes funding for body cams for Bozeman PD police officers, something that Bozeman’s interim chief of police says won’t come without some community engagement.
“I think this is just one of the components law enforcement is using to try and continue meeting the community’s increasing expectations. And rightly so,” said Interim Chief of Police Jim Veltkamp.
Veltkamp says Bozeman PD is asking the city of Bozeman to finance a body camera program.
He says assuming it gets approved, there’s a lot more planning before officers start wearing cameras.
“It is going to be a long, complicated process to get the body-worn cameras actually working. A big part of that is going to be a community engagement process,” said Veltkamp.
“We want to make sure that we are matching and meeting the community’s needs, the community’s expectations of what a body-worn camera program would include.”
That means having a conversation about what the policy behind the cameras would look like, and figure out the tough questions: what happens if officers respond to the hospital? Or someone’s residents? Or even a grade school?
What point does the camera go on? What point does it go off?
This brings up the issue of privacy concerns.
“How do we capture the evidence we need? Increase trust and transparency? Provide the best court cases we can with the best documentation? Yet respect people’s right to privacy?” Veltkamp added.
“And those are the exact issues we’re trying to make sure we’re trying to put together correctly by putting together a community engagement plan.”
But at the end of the day, Veltkamp says residents need to remember the limitations of body cams.
“Communities often see the body-worn cameras as the solution to so many of the issues and concerns they have about law enforcement,” said Veltkamp.
“For us, it’s just one piece. I think an even bigger piece is the fact that each agency has to ensure that they’re hiring the correct people. The very best possible people, training them appropriately, clearly communicating their expectations and then holding each officer to that standard.”
Tomorrow, MTN News sits down with The Montana Racial Equity Project to hear their thoughts on what bodycams could mean for residents and black, indigenous, and people of color within the community.