Police body cameras focus of review

Councilors eye costs, funding for devices and department wages in review of proposed budget

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The acquisition of body cameras was the main topic of discussion when Police Chief Kevin C. Beach met before councilors for his annual budget hearing at City Hall on Wednesday.

City administrators and department heads have been meeting before the council over the last few weeks to discuss expenses associated with the city’s proposed $45.7 million spending plan for 2022. The police department makes up 17.47% of the total spending plan.

There were no speakers for a public hearing on the city’s proposed budget at about 6:40 p.m. Wednesday.

Beach said Rome Police was approved for a $125,000 grant to be used toward the purchase of 65 police body cameras, and mentioned a $1,000 donation made by residents John and Lolita Ward, which was later approved by the Common Council during its regular meeting that followed the hearing.

When first investigating the expenditures associated with the purchase of the cameras, which also includes a service contract, licensing and software associated with downloading and storing camera footage, as well as sharing evidence/information with the county District Attorney’s Office, the chief said estimated costs were at about $490,000, with just 50 cameras included in the purchase.

Several months later, Beach said they were able to bring that cost down to approximately $310,000 for the purchase of 65 cameras through manufacturer Axon.

Asked by councilors if the chief had to eliminate any significant items from the department’s budget in order to fund the $310,000 camera expense, he said it came down to breaking things down into categories of what the department “would like to have” versus “what we need.”

Beach explained that law enforcement is now required to submit any video and audio footage as evidence to the District Attorney’s Office within 15 days, “which is a huge task.”

“We went to a full-time officer for discovery work” because of it, Beach said. “Maybe next year or so we can go to a part-time person.”

Officers have been testing four cameras out in the field over the last couple weeks and “the quality is great — it’s a great product,” said Beach. “And it’s already paying off for us.”

Cameras and software will cost about $125,000 for the first year of operation and then $46,000 for each of the remaining four years on the contract. Beach said in 2 1/2 to 3 years if equipment becomes obsolete or there’s a “better product” produced, then the department will receive all new equipment. The five-year contract includes licensing, service and maintenance.

While the $310,000 package is considered “the best deal for us,” Beach warned that the department would need to order them soon.

“Because everyone is going to cameras, there’s going to be a high demand,” the chief said. “If we don’t put our order in until January, we won’t see cameras here until at least the middle of next year.”

If ordered soon, “We’ll be in the front of the line rather than the back,” he said.

All front line officers will receive a camera that will be numbered so that they are assigned to a specific patrolman. Beach said it “made more sense” for officers to have their own camera, rather than share one, to allow ample time to download footage and so that information “is not going back and forth.” There will be a few extra cameras in case “some go down,” he added. Repairs and technology are also included in the contract.

The chief was then questioned about IT and computer purchases, and Beach said hardware was being updated “because of age, and some detectives requested dual monitors” to aid in their investigative work.

As for dash cams on patrol vehicles, Beach said the department is considering using Axon in the future, which is the company that will supply the body cameras. Right now the department has dash cams from three different companies, and Beach said they’re hoping to “phase out” the cameras so that Axon could eventually act as the umbrella company, providing all police cameras to the department.

Beach said the cost for replacing a dash cam can be up to $6,000, which the department did not ask for in the proposed budget.

“We’re going to keep what we have for now, and we’re not replacing them,” he said.

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers asked that since COVID recovery monies can be used toward the purchase of body cameras, could funds also be used toward expenses related to dash cams.

City Treasurer David Nolan said dash cams would be eligible for funding, “but I’m not suggesting” funds should be used toward them.

Rogers also asked if Rome Police could “pick up another grant” in addition to the $125,000 grant already approved. Beach said, “Yes,” and that the department was still waiting to hear back about a $100,000 grant from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, as well as another annual grant. “And probably another grant will be coming out,” he added.

In other equipment requests, Rome Police asked for a $1,853 Polygraph desk top system with monitor and external hard drive, which would be used while screening police candidates, as well as by detectives. The current polygraph is going on 23-years-old. Police also requested a $556 “Shocknife,” used for “reality” training when officers are taught self defense. The knife gives an “electric shock” so trainees know they’ve been struck.

Fifth Ward Councilor Frank R. Anderson pointed out that the department’s salaries and wages line was going up more than $400,000 when comparing the current year to the proposed budget and asked if it was due to “steps.” Beach said it was due to the 2% annual salary increase and promotions.

Anderson also asked with police reform if the department was planning to schedule additional training, such as bias training, sensitivity training, domestic violence, etc., for 2022.

Beach said the department will not only be increasing the number of trainings but also the training types, “to get different perspectives from different people,” which was budgeted for. While the department also has two Spanish-speaking officers now, the chief said training will also continue to be offered to those interested in learning a second language.

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