LEWISTON — City officials are narrowing down options to outfit police personnel with body cameras following months of friction between the City Council and Lewiston’s largest police union over the timeline for acquiring them.
During a workshop session Tuesday, the City Council gave informal approval to a proposal to purchase 80 body cameras as well as 15 cruiser cameras from BodyWorn by Utility, which has the backing of the police department and union.
Lewiston police personnel, as well as a representative from BodyWorn, said Tuesday that the functionality of the system — a camera that rests centered inside an officer’s uniform — and its data storage abilities, make it “light years ahead of the competitors.”
City officials have been in discussions with the police department over body cameras since June, when the police patrol union issued a letter demanding funding for outfitting all sworn personnel. The letter came in reaction to an earlier council resolution — drafted amidst national outrage over the police killing of George Floyd — that condemned racial profiling and excessive force by police in the city.
However, throughout the discussions, both sides have agreed that police body cameras are an important, and overdue, piece of insuring officer accountability and safety. On Tuesday, councilors appeared on board with a plan that could cost more than $600,000 over a five-year period.
John Watson, business manager for BodyWorn, told the council that the equipment vendor is the only one endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People due to its automated activation system as well as other features.
The system can be programmed to begin recording video at any number of situations, including when an officer unholsters a weapon, opens the door to their cruiser, begins running, and more.
Watson said because the cameras, which look more like a smartphone, are affixed to the inside of an officer’s uniform, they are less likely to be knocked off or damaged.
He also said the automated activation removes “the human error element of failed activation,” which ensures incidents aren’t missed.
Lewiston police Sgt. Carly Conley said Tuesday that both unions representing police personnel have “given very positive feedback” on the system.
A few councilors questioned how much access there will be to video and audio information from the devices.
Police Chief Brian O’Malley said administration is in favor due to BodyWorn’s unlimited cloud storage, replacement of damaged body cameras at no additional cost and because “it is the only body camera with numerous automated triggers to ensure that video is recorded.”
Recently, Auburn police officials also forwarded a proposal to purchase body cameras from BodyWorn, which is already the vendor for their cruiser cameras.
O’Malley said the total cost for the body cameras plus replacement cruiser cameras is $596,125, however Watson said that price will likely rise after Nov. 10.
The department also received quotes from two other vendors, and officials said the bids would go through the official Finance Committee process.
City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil said he hopes to have a formal proposal in front of the council by early November.