After years of police, community activists and residents pushing for more accountability and a year after police officials said it would begin, all Salem police officers will have body cameras starting Monday.
The Motorola cameras will be worn by sworn staff working patrol duties and by detectives in the field.
Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack said the cameras will further safety, accountability and building trust in the community.
Many residents and activists have long called for cameras. The racial justice protests and the murder of George Floyd in 2020 by Minneapolis police officers heightened those calls.
Womack pointed out that more than 50% of police departments now have body cameras.
"In my mind, it's a standard piece of law enforcement equipment," he said. "It plays a key role."
Research, supply chain delays blamed
A number of Willamette Valley departments much smaller than Salem's have been using cameras for years, including Woodburn, Stayton, Springfield and Newberg-Dundee.
Eugene Police Department officers began using body cameras in 2017. The Sweet Home Police Department has been using them since 2011. Lebanon police began using them in 2014.
Salem has had state funding to pay for the cameras since 2021. Womack blamed a longer-than-intended search for the right cameras and supply chain challenges for the delay in implementing Salem's program.
He said since making cameras a priority two years ago, the city has worked hard to make the goal a reality.
"From enhancing criminal investigations to building and maintaining trusting relationships with our community through increased transparency and mutual accountability - cameras are an invaluable tool for law enforcement today," he said.
Not every police department has been quick to adopt police cameras.
Despite a decade-long effort, Portland remains the last large city in the United States where police do not wear body cameras. Reports attribute this to an initial lack of funding followed by difficulty agreeing on policy with the city's police union.
Majority of Salem police want body cameras
The campaign to bring in body cameras added another ally in recent years: Salem police officers.
"We should have had them years and years ago," said Salem police Detective Scotty Nowning, who also serves as president of the Salem Police Employee's Union.
He recounted hearing claims that the reason Salem didn't have cameras was because of the police union.
"That's not true," Nowning said.
A survey done by the union found that 84% of officers supported cameras. Many of the holdouts were concerned about how the cameras would be used in sensitive investigations like child abuse and sexual abuse.
Nowning said he sees a major shift in attitude toward body cameras in the younger generation of police. They are used to being on video, and cameras have been expected and normalized.
City funds, state funds bring bodycams to Salem
After getting budget authorization in June 2021 from Salem City Council, Salem police started an almost two-year journey to get body cameras on every officer.
Womack said the cameras cost about $400,000 a year for equipment and operation. Funding from the Oregon State Legislature paid for the first two years of operation.
Womack said they worked with local district attorneys, city leadership and citizen advisory groups to establish a policy on wearing cameras, when officers would turn them on and who could access the videos.
They then reviewed three different vendors - Axon Enterprise, Getac and Motorola - and stress-tested them to ensure the cameras could hold up to Oregon's rainy weather and things like getting dropped or bumped.
The department opted to get body cameras from Motorola along with dashboard cameras and in-car cameras.
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