Wednesday, December 23, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Body cameras for our police

State Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) presented a $5,000 check to the Jacksonville Police Department at a recent city council meeting.

The JPD will use the money from the state General Improvement Funds to purchase 10 body cameras.

Chesterfield’s district includes a portion of Jacksonville. She said Maumelle requested additional money for body cameras, and she found out Jacksonville also needed the cameras.

Former Rep. Mike Wilson (D-Jacksonville) has challenged the controversial improvement funds in court and could try again after the holidays. He’s won a previous round, having forced the legislature to allocate funds indirectly to local beneficiaries since the state Constitution bans funding local projects, including libraries, museums, parochial schools and others.

Wilson thinks the new system still is unconstitutional. Perhaps when the courts revisit the issue, the legislature will continue funding such worthy projects as body cameras for local law enforcement through the State Police or other stage agencies.

Most area police departments now use body cameras to protect themselves and the public. Cabot received 30 point-of-view cameras in October.

The first-year cost for the department’s five-year contract with Taser International is $29,253. The cost to manage the system and store the body cameras’ recordings for the length of the contract is about $10,398 a year. The total cost of the contract is $70,971.

The department had received approximately $11,471 in grant funding from the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District to offset some of the first-year costs.

Sgt. Jason Hopkins of the Sherwood Police Department said they have 16 body cameras but would like between 35 and 40 for every patrol officer on the force. Money is being budgeted to do that next year, he noted.

Austin Police Chief Jim Kulesa said that agency had body cameras when he took over last year.

But they were cumbersome and not being used. The prosecutor’s office helped the city get new taser-style body cameras.

Now, each of Austin’s three full-time officers has one, and two are shared between the part-time staff.

Every officer has a file they can download their recordings into, the chief noted.

Sheriff John Staley said the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office had body cameras when he took office years ago, but they have since upgraded to the taser-style body cameras.

He’d like to have a few extras and said the equipment is for “officer protection and also to protect the public.”

Capt. Carl Minden of the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office said the agency doesn’t have body cameras but is looking into attaining them.

“We are currently in the testing and evaluation phase of the various body camera models on the market. The goal is to acquire the cameras in the near future. One for each deputy assigned to the patrol division is the minimum goal,” he said.

Minden also noting, “Body cameras can protect both the citizens and the law enforcement officer by allowing for transparency on interactions, whether they are positive or negative.”

He continued, “The cameras can be crucial for evidentiary purposes during use-of-force incidents, complaint allegations, crime scenes, etc. Cameras are not the end all be all, but they can be a valuable tool if used properly.”

Thank you, Sen. Chesterfield and all our local legislators who have put the safety of our law-enforcement officers and the safety of their constituents as a top priority this year and next. Here’s hoping Mike Wilson’s anticipated lawsuit will bring more clarity to the General Improvement Funds but will allow such life-saving measures as body cameras for law enforcement to continue.