Committee to look at body cameras for police

CITY HALL – Pressed by Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, a city panel will take a closer look at equipping city police officers with body cameras.

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment decided on Wednesday to start the process of seeking proposals for providing the body cameras and related equipment, services and software to the department. The board, made up of the mayor, comptroller and aldermanic board president, weighs in on fiscal matters for the city.

Board members voted unanimously on Sept. 20, 2017, to move forward with a free trial of 50 body cameras. The board then formed a committee to seek proposals for a permanent solution. 

Since then, nothing has happened. Concerned about a spate of shootings of children, Reed has been pressing for the board to start moving on the issue.

“It would mean so much for the city of St. Louis if we began to move forward,” Reed said at Wednesday’s meeting. 

Using the vendor that supplies St. Louis County Police with its body cameras, the city would pay about $1.4 million, Reed said. The city could handle it through current surpluses, he said. 

Reed said the body cameras would be a good way to deal with the large payoffs from the city for suits against the police department. According to figures supplied by his office, they cost $1 million in fiscal year 2015-16, $900,000 in 2016-17, $5 million in 2017-18 and $4.05 million in 2018-19 – or just under $11 million in four years.

The cameras can create better relationships with the public, Reed said.

Mayor Lyda Krewson said there had been numerous other needs. She also said the quoted price two years ago was much higher. 

“I think it’s a fair statement to say that a couple of years ago, it was $4 to $5 million a year,” Krewson said. 

“We have addressed a number of priorities over the last two years that are above body cameras, such as new radios, which are being ordered, such as dash cams in cars, computers in cars and geo locators in cars,” Krewson said. “Next up, if we can afford it, will be body cameras.”

The mayor also said her office would be happy to move toward the formation of a committee to work on requests for proposals. 

Reed said aldermanic committees had held numerous hearings on the issue.

“There will always be a reason to say ‘no,’ or ‘This is not an appropriate time,’” Reed said.

Meanwhile, Krewson said Wednesday that she supported the Cure Violence program, which works to detect and interrupt conflicts along with identifying and treating those most likely to be violent.  Reed had been pushing for that program.

On Tuesday, Krewson sent a letter to Comptroller Darlene Green to use her emergency powers under the City Charter to sign a contract with Cure Violence to implement its model in high-risk neighborhoods as soon as possible. 

“The City’s lengthy (request for proposal) process prevents us from implementing this Alternative Crime Prevention Program as soon as we would like to,” the mayor wrote in her letter to Green.

In the budget process, the mayor supported allocating $500,000 for violence prevention alternatives, but wouldn’t specify what kind.

Green’s spokesman, Tyson Pruitt, said there was an “ongoing conversation” on the issue.

“She’s not going to make a decision until there’s a contract to look at,” Pruitt said. “Clearly, the mayor’s office has more work to do.”

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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