Arlington

Arlington council backs police body cameras but leery of costs

Fort Worth Police Officer Jeff Garwacki demonstrates the Axon Body Worn Camera being worn by officers in Fort Worth.
Fort Worth Police Officer Jeff Garwacki demonstrates the Axon Body Worn Camera being worn by officers in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram

The City Council gave a cautious thumbs-up to a proposal to outfit Arlington police officers with body cameras at a first-year hit of $2.9 million on the 2016-17 budget.

The Police Department wants to purchase 350 body cameras and video storage equipment as part of a program that is expected to cost about $2.2 million annually for additional personnel to manage and maintain the video data system.

We all want to do it right, if we’re going to do it. But the ultimate cost of all of that is overwhelming. There are a lot of great things we can do, but it all has to factor into our overall budget.

Mayor Jeff Williams

After a police presentation Tuesday afternoon, the council consensus was to ask police administrators and city staff to work up more details on the program and potential funding sources, and then return to the council for more discussion.

“We all want to do it right, if we’re going to do it,” Mayor Jeff Williams summed up when the afternoon work session ended.

“But the ultimate cost of all of that is overwhelming. There are a lot of great things we can do, but it all has to factor into our overall budget.”

The police proposal comes in response to a series of police shootings, mostly of unarmed black males, over the past couple of years that has police departments across the country employing body cameras and other measures to regain lost trust. Body cameras are seen as protection for both police and the civilians they encounter.

“Without a doubt I believe that body cameras will improve accountability,” Police Chief Will Johnson told the council. “From a city standpoint, it should help in preventing lawsuits.”

The $2.9 million first-year program costs include $525,000 to purchase equipment, $300,000 for network infrastructure, $1.87 million for supervision and $200,000 for technical and legal support.

The proposal follows a $50,000, six-month pilot project in which the department got to audition a variety of camera and equipment types provided by Taser, Panasonic and Vievu, who would be the bidders to provide the devices. The pilot project ended April 1.

The police presentation broke down the first-year costs this way: $525,000 to purchase equipment, $300,000 for network infrastructure, $1.87 million for supervision; $200,000 for technical and legal support.

The program has been approved for a $225,000 state grant, which requires a $56,000 city match.

Deputy Chief Os Flores said the program has been approved for a $225,000 state grant, which requires a $56,000 city match. The department also is applying for a $360,000 federal grant.

“But that’s all for initial acquisition cost,’ Flores said. “That’s not going to take care of personnel costs.”

At their evening meeting, the council approved $36.2 million in bonds for projects, including residential street reconstruction, sidewalks, recreation center design and parkland acquisition and renovation.

The council also approved $16.9 million in certificates of obligation, which are similar to bonds but don’t require election approval, to supplement funds for the Ditto Golf Club course renovation and clubhouse, and landfill improvements.

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST

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