Commission Considers Purchase of Police Body Cameras at Jan. 19 Meeting
Last updated 1/19/2021 at 10:12am
Two Lake Wales city commissioners are calling for the implementation of a police worn body camera system, but it will take a third to make it happen.
Despite having no firm commitment from a third member, Commissioners Terrye Howell and Curtis Gibson insisted that the possible purchase be placed on their Jan. 19 regular agenda.
"Accountability is what we need to look at," Gibson said. "I honestly think it will help officers as well, it protects everybody in the event of a situation."
Howell said citizens are not treated the same throughout the city and body cameras are "a step forward to make our police officers be accountable for what they are doing and saying."
She called for a discussion about "better leadership, different leadership or accountability of leadership."
Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson and Commissioner Al Goldstein took no position during their Jan. 13 workshop and Mayor Eugene Fultz said he wanted more input from citizens and the newly formed Citizen Police Community Advisory Committee.
In previous meetings, the deputy mayor and Goldstein spoke against police body cameras. After a workshop last January Fultz joined Howell and Commissioner Curtis Gibson in calling for body camera implementation, but a decision to move forward was delayed due to budget concerns.
Local attorney Sara Jones submitted a letter to commissioners, renewing the call for police body cameras she has been promoting for more than a year.
"We must utilize best practices if we are to live up to our claims of excellence," Jones wrote. "Body worn cameras aid in officer training by allowing trainers to use actual encounters to instruct trainees on proper procedure and create inquiry into how to better provide law enforcement services; they aid in accountability by giving the most accurate account of police-citizen encounters currently available; they provide the State with evidence with which to effectuate prosecutions in a way that facilitates judicial economy; and they create trust between law enforcement and the community."
Making no recommendation on the issue, City Manager James Slaton estimated the cost for a body camera system, including equipment, software and storage, would run cost about $474,000 for the first five years. That includes $200,000 to hire a staff member to manage video evidence for the police department.
The quote from Axon, the market leader in body cameras, says first-year costs for the equipment purchase and full system would be just under $93,350. Axon costs in years two through five would be about $45,000 per year.
If a majority of commissioners want to proceed with a body camera system they would need to approve a budget amendment of the first-year cost of $133,350. But Slaton acknowledged the actual funds needed during the 2020-21 budget year could be lower depending upon when the system was implemented. The city is already four months into this year's budget.
"If the budget amendment is a little high and the real dollars spent are lower, the money saved will go back into the coffers. Better to be under budget than to underestimate and run over," Slaton said.
Slaton also said the commission might consider delaying purchase and funding the entire project in the 2021-22 budget, which starts Oct. 1.
Howell said if the city can buy police cars and make other purchases it can find the funds to implement body cameras, which she said will help with transparency and building trust.
The Jan. 19 commission meeting is held in the city administration building at 201 W. Central Ave. There is limited space within the commission chambers due to CDC guidelines for social distancing. Citizens also can watch online through the city's website or be able to speak by registering to attend at https://www.lakewalesfl.gov/834/Virtual-Public-Meeting-Registration