Upgraded body cameras included in $6.1M police funding

Heather Regan White / The American Press

SULPHUR — The city’s projected 2018-19 budget includes $6.1 million for the Police Department — funding that will cover operating costs, salaries, benefits, new equipment, vehicles and infrastructure updates, said Chief Lewis Coats.

New equipment and vehicle purchases will account for $108,000 of the budget, and included among the equipment will be upgraded body cameras.

For more than 10 years, L3-brand cameras have been installed in police units, and the cameras were of good quality and easy to use, Coats said. In 2015, L3 offered free body cameras with the purchase of their unit models, Coats said.

“We acquired 10 of the ‘free’ body cameras and began using them,” he said. “Unfortunately, the quality of the camera housing wasn’t ruggedized, and they didn’t last as long as expected.”

Coats said the department had to wait nearly a year before the newer, ruggedized version of the devices was released. “Unfortunately, the cost factor was more than we felt they were worth,” he said. “That is reason for the delay in that purchase.”

Coats said only four or five of the original 10 body cameras work. The number of officers using them varies, and use isn’t mandatory, he said.

“The officers were asked to use them on all calls,” Coats said. “These were for testing and evaluation so we could have a baseline for future expectations and abilities of body cameras.”

Coats said he accepted the body cameras from L3 for transparency purposes and to provide an officer’s point of view in recording incidents.

“From evidence collection to courtroom testimony, the cameras will benefit the integrity of any criminal case,” he said.

“Complaints against officers will either be validated or determined unfounded after viewing the body camera footage. And officers can write a more detailed report by reviewing their body camera recording.”

The department will continue to use the L3 vehicle cameras in conjunction with the body cameras, Coats said.

Jail renovations

Coats said new legislation is the impetus for renovations to the jailer’s office and adjacent rooms at the city jail. Effective this July, the Raise the Age Act directs authorities to treat 17-year-old offenders as juveniles and keep them separate from adults.

“Unfortunately, the number of arrested 17-year-olds has been on the increase,” Coats said.

“With that, the single room that we currently use is not sufficient. We plan to redesign and expand the jailer’s office, which will open up an area that will be used for a juvenile holding area.”

Other structural updates will include replacing floor coverings in the administrative offices and narcotics building; removing wallpaper in the administrative wing and painting the walls; and removing wood paneling in the narcotics building and inspecting it to see if a recent termite issue has been resolved, then covering the walls with drywall.

“Basically, it’s updating two work areas that haven’t been touched in more than 20 years,” Coats said.

Also in the proposed budget is the conversion of a 34-foot camper that, when not being used to haul toys, has been in storage for 10 years, and the purchase of three vehicles to replace units with high mileage or maintenance issues.

There is a plan to convert the camper for use as an operations center at festivals and events. Coats also plans to purchase a Ford F-250 pickup to pull it.

“Unfortunately, we have had to rely on the availability of other city department trucks to move the trailer,” he said. “The purchase of the 3⁄4-ton truck will give us the freedom to move it anytime we need to move it.”

Other vehicle purchases include units for narcotics and property crimes detectives. These two units will be purchased with money from the drug asset forfeiture fund and will cost the taxpayers nothing, Coats said. Another unit will also be purchased, he said.

The City Council will vote on the proposed budget at 5:30 p.m. May 14 in the Council Chambers, 500 N. Huntington St.

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