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Warren council discusses body cameras

WARREN — A discussion about the city purchasing body cameras for its officers and opening up an impound lot for towed vehicles began with a vendor that was invited to give a presentation about the cameras not being allowed to speak because he was not on the agenda.

New Warren City Councilman Ronald White, D-7th Ward, invited a vendor to Thursday’s combined police and fire and strategic planning committee meeting to give an outline of the possible costs of purchasing body cameras for Warren police officers.

However, Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, would not support allowing the vendor to make his presentation because he was not on the public notice for the meeting. Novak is the chairman of council’s police and fire committee.

White, chair of the strategic planning committee, told members of the committee he wanted to open discussions about having body cameras because they potentially could help diffuse situations when police and members of the public describe police interaction in different ways.

Camera images also can provide descriptions of people involved in police interactions, White said, specifically citing an incident Monday when an off-duty officer was fired upon when he stopped to help what he thought was a stranded motorist.

Setting up a body camera system for the department could cost as much as $250,000, according to estimates given to White.

“The purchasing of body cameras is not on the forefront of my agenda,” Novak said. “We have fire trucks that could have historic plates on them. We need to replace some of our police vehicles.”

Novak said money generated from a city-owned impound lot could pay for equipment for the police and fire departments.

Councilman John Brown, D-at Large, questioned the initial costs of the camera system and the storage costs.

Councilman Ken MacPherson, D-5th Ward, said council needs to examine both the pros and cons of purchasing a body camera system for the police department.

“We can bring in a vendor to educate council members about body cameras,” MacPherson said. “It is not uncommon for council to bring in a vendor for educational purposes, like what was done when discussing LED street lights.”

White emphasized the city should use its two grant writers and the assistance of experts in the police department to find ways to pay for the system.

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at Large, said she brought up preparing legislation for body cameras four years ago, but was asked to wait until the consent decree from the U.S. Justice Department was completed.

“There is no more reason to wait,” Rucker said. “Cameras save citizens lives. They save the lives of police officers. They save the city money in lawsuits. How long are we going to wait?”

Safety Service Director Eddie Colbert said police Chief Eric Merkel has been working to get answers on both a city-owned impound lot and body cameras.

“He has been supportive of the cameras,” Colbert said.

Council President Jim Graham suggested having council meetings specifically to have detailed discussions about a city-owned impound lot and body cameras over the next month.

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