City approves police body camera funding
Grand Rapids city commissioners approved $674,124 to fund the implementation of body cameras for the Grand Rapids Police Department last week.
The funding, which comes from the city’s Transformation Fund, will cover the costs of the body cameras for two years, after which the GRPD will take over the cost through its operations budget.
The move follows a Jan. 13 meeting in which Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom presented recommendations regarding improving police and community relations, which included the implementation of body cameras.
Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky said after an extensive review of options the cameras will be purchased through Axon/Evidence.com, which will also provide digital evidence management including storage and redaction services.
Once captured, the footage is subject to Michigan and Grand Rapids record retention schedules and policies and disclosure pursuant to Michigan Freedom of Information Act requests.
Rahinsky said a benefit of Evidence.com is that the cloud-based storage system involves a fixed cost, which will help with budgeting and is beneficial since he cannot guess at how much storage space will be utilized.
He said the alternative would be to purchase each aspect of the system separately, which would be significantly more expensive.
According to the request, “The product has been implemented with good results by various sized agencies across the nation.”
The funding covers the initial acquisition of 200 body-worn cameras ($77,964), docking stations ($35,880), 200 licenses ($191,940 each year), assurance plan ($7,200 each year), training ($15,000), integration with the computer-aided dispatch system ($48,000 each year) and contingencies ($45,000 each year).
About $39,000 of the cost will be paid back through a grant from excess coverage insurer, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority.
After the initial two years, the GRPD is expected to pay $247,140 annually for the program. The five-year cost projection for the body camera program is $1.4 million. The funding projections for all five years do not include employee costs associated with the body cameras.
“It’s very difficult for us to put a dollar cost on this (personnel),” Rahinsky said. He also said he wouldn’t know until the cameras were in use what level of personnel will be needed to handle the administrative aspects of the program.
Rahinsky said complete implementation of the body cameras would take place by mid-summer or early fall, at which point every uniformed officer will be wearing one. Currently, a handful of officers are wearing the cameras on a voluntary basis.
Rahinsky also shared the department’s new body camera policy, which was developed with the goal of balancing citizen privacy, protecting police officers and promoting transparency. He said the cameras would be activated any time an officer is responding to a call for service and would not be deactivated until the call was completed.
There are a few exceptions when an officer is allowed to deactivate the camera. Those include “when recording an event will compromise the safety of a civilian or an officer; or when an officer is interacting with a member of the public in a matter of an exceedingly sensitive or private nature, including but not limited to the following: an informant providing intelligence of criminal activity, death notifications or interviews with victims of criminal sexual conduct.”
Officers will undergo training that will include teaching them to identify highly sensitive situations in which a camera should be turned off. Rahinsky said officers would be empowered to make those calls in the field.
Because there is not an expectation of privacy in exchanges with police officers, officers will not be required to notify a subject he or she is being recorded.
Recordings are subject to FOIA requests, but Rahinsky said the “mere fact it’s captured doesn’t mean it will ever be shared outside with the general public.”
Rahinsky emphasized policy changes are likely as the cameras go into wide use.
“We will learn a lot and when we learn, we are not beyond going back and amending this policy,” he said.