The City Council will resume its conversation on buying police body cameras Thursday after putting off the decision nearly nine months ago.
City staff members recommend spending $1.4 million for 530 cameras for sworn officers at the rank of captain and below. If the agenda item moves forward at the work session, the City Council could vote on the issue at its Nov. 21 regular meeting.
In February, the council planned to vote on buying body worn cameras. It delayed the purchase due to concerns about the Police Department’s draft camera policy, including the circumstances under which the videos would be released to the public.
Mayor Bill Bell called on those who had concerns – Charlie Reece, Jillian Johnson and Steve Schewel – to review the policy and come back with some revisions. The discussion was furthered delayed when City Manager Tom Bonfield wanted to wait until new Police Chief C.J. Davis started in June.
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The local policy discussion was superseded by state legislation adopted over the summer. The legislation, which went into effect Oct. 1, regulates the release of recordings from body and dashboard cameras.
The state law allows people who are recorded, or their representatives, to see footage if the police chief allows it.
If access is denied, the subject can seek a court order to see the video. A court order also is required for the general release of police camera footage.
Bell said last week he is ready to move forward and get cameras on police officers.
“The law is what the law its,” Bell said. “ I think we are missing an opportunity, not just for police officers but the community.”
Councilman Charlie Reece said he remains skeptical that the city can have a body camera policy that complies with the new state law and guarantees of transparency and accountability.
City Councilman Don Moffitt believes the community benefit of a dispassionate third-party witness outweighs access concerns.
Meanwhile, in Chapel Hill, police are issuing cameras for 14 patrol officers to wear, spokesman Lt. Josh Mecimore said.
The department, which used a Governor’s Crime Commission to buy the cameras, has moved slowly to buy body cameras, investigating its options for nearly two years to find a model that works.
Chapel Hill officials will continue to monitor camera usage and related challenges, Mecimore said. Next steps will include evaluating costs, which includes the cost of storing the footage, and figuring out whether it’s worth it to spend money on more cameras.
If you go
The Durham City Council will discuss buying body cameras at its 1 p.m. Thursday work session in the Committee Room of the second floor of City Hall, 101 City Hall Plaza.
To see the agenda, go to http://bit.ly/2eD6n8r