By Conrad Dudderar
A proposal in the City of Yukon budget calls for the purchase of new body cameras for Yukon police officers.
Some $180,000 has been proposed for body-worn camera equipment and technology as a capital improvement item for the Yukon Police Department in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget.
The annual budget, which takes effect July 1, has not yet been finalized.
“If we’re able to purchase these cameras for the officers in this next budget year, I think it will be good for us,” Yukon Police Chief John Corn said.
The chief tells officers that video captured on a body camera video “may be the only friend you have.”
If approved by the Yukon City Council in the city budget, the purchase of new equipment and technology would be made through WatchGuard Video on state contract.
Yukon police officers then could be wearing body cameras while on duty by this fall.
“It could be pretty quick,” Corn said.
“The technology is readily handy. I’d like to place the order for that as soon as we could (after July 1). It may take 45 to 60 days to get the hardware, then we’ll have to do the training and set up the software.”
Body camera video was used extensively during the investigation and recent trial of Derek Chauvin, a former Minnesota police officer convicted in the death of George Floyd.
Other officer-involved incidents captured on body cam video also have received widespread attention in recent years.
PROTECTING SUSPECTS … AND OFFICERS
Yukon police and city officials first discussed buying body camera systems about five years ago.
Federal funds to provide body cams for officers were then being offered to police agencies because of civil rights complaints and lawsuits.
Most of the funds for the cameras ended up going to larger cities.
At the time, Chief Corn told then-City Manager Jim Crosby there were not enough complaints on Yukon officers to warrant spending the $200,000-plus needed at the time for the purchase.
But times have changed since then, Yukon’s police chief noted, and the video evidence from body cam technology today also will protect officers wrongly accused.
“There’s been a shift,” Corn said. “The camera has become not so much a means to fight a complaint filed against an officer, it’s become more of a tool for the agencies to use in defending or documenting what the officer is doing.”
Under Oklahoma state statutes, police body cam video must be released upon request – unless it specifically pertains to a criminal investigation.
“It should never be a question of either the sheriff or chief from that department whether the video gets released or when it gets released – as long as it doesn’t compromise the victim or the suspect,” Chief Corn said.
“Many people don’t realize, sometimes it could be to the suspect’s advantage not to have the body cam video released at a particular point.”
Several items must be redacted when a police or sheriff’s department releases body camera video. This includes images that identify children and domestic violence victims, and any nudity.
“We have to look at a complete redactive software package for the camera video,” Corn said. “That would help keep someone from being even more victimized.”
A 32-year Yukon police veteran, Corn said he’s always been a strong proponent of crime victims.
“I don’t think if a person is victimized, that we should promote or enhance their victimization again,” said Corn, who has been Yukon’s police chief for nine years. “That doesn’t serve the public’s right to know against an individual’s right to their privacy or not to be victimized.”
Yukon Police recently were just seconds away from an officer-involved shooting.
A short vehicle pursuit on W Highway 66 could have turned deadly after the male driver acted like he was going to ram an officer’s cruiser, Chief John Corn reported.
After avoiding a collision, the officer had the suspect exit his vehicle and they started talking. It soon became apparent the person was struggling with a mental health issue.
“The officer recognized it,” Corn said. “He was trying to provoke the officer into firing on him.
“He was cognitive enough to know how to try to ‘bait’ the officer into an engagement by not complying or following any of the officer’s commands. He was yelling, ‘Just shoot me’.
“As we’ve seen play out in several of these cases in the national spotlight, he did exactly what the officer told him not to do.”
The officer ended up using his Taser on the subject, who was taken into custody without further incident.
Read about the Yukon police chief’s views about how recent national attention about officer-involved incidents in other states and calls for police reform elsewhere is impacting Yukon Police in an upcoming issue of The Progress.