The chief of the Rifle Police Department, which recently was involved in a fatal shooting of an armed man, says the department has considered and continues to consider getting body cameras for its officers, but the cameras have drawbacks as well as benefits.
"There's positives and negatives to it. I don't think there's an easy, one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to body cameras," Chief Tommy Klein said this week.
Two of his officers remain under investigation and on administrative leave in connection with an incident earlier this month when Rifle resident Allan George, 57, was shot as officers were trying to arrest him on a warrant issued in Eagle County that same day. He was wanted on suspicion of sexual exploitation, which 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown has said usually pertains to possession of child pornography.
The shooting happened on the busy Colorado Highway 13 bridge over the Colorado River and prompted authorities to ask that any witnesses to the incident contact them.
The Glenwood Springs Post Independent subsequently has reported it has been provided with two cellphone videos showing the shooting. It says they appear to show George was shot in the back while heading away from officers. The newspaper says one video shows George first pointed a gun at his chest for more than a minute, and then acted as if he was preparing to jump off the bridge, before running from officers with his gun in his pocket as one of them ordered him to stop, and then being shot.
The multi-jurisdictional 9th Judicial District Critical Incident Team is investigating the shooting, and 9th DA Jeff Cheney will review the team's findings and determine if the officers' actions warrant any criminal charges.
Officials have released only limited details about the incident pending the investigation's completion. Walt Stowe, spokesman for the investigative team and the Garfield County Sheriff's Office, has said that it is standard protocol for officers to use whatever force is necessary when someone doesn't obey orders to drop a gun, and said George could have fired on passing motorists or officers.
Klein has identified the patrol officers involved as S. McNeal, hired in 2018, and D. Ryan, hired in 2005. A city of Rifle blog posting last September said Shelby McNeal was hired after graduating as a top student from the police academy at Colorado Mountain College.
In 2010, Rifle police officer Dewey Ryan shot and seriously wounded Phil Amonette after Amonette shot another Rifle officer in his protective vest as the officers responded to a call about a domestic situation. Amonette received a 29-year prison sentence in that case. Klein this week declined to say if the officer involved in this month's shooting is Dewey Ryan.
Absent the availability of body camera video, it appears authorities will be relying at least in part on citizen-taken video in their investigation into the George shooting. Meanwhile, Klein said cost is a consideration, but not the only one, for his department in continuing to think about whether to outfit officers with cameras. He said the expense involves not just the equipment but the data storage capacity for the video.
He said storage might be less of an issue for particularly small departments with few officers, and for large departments with plenty of money, but is a factor for a department of Rifle's size.
He said the department also would have to pay someone to manage requests for that data.
Klein also said privacy issues arise in the case of requests being made for videos involving juveniles. "It's not cut and dry like some people think it is," he said of the use of body cameras.
He said another concern is whether people would speak freely with officers equipped with body cameras. Some people may be intimidated by the cameras even if an officer turns the camera off, especially if they're apprehensive to talk in the first place, he said.