By SUE SUCHYTA
HEIGHTS – The City Council authorized Police Chief Mark Meyers’ bid request Nov. 10 for a comprehensive data recording system, which the department can afford if it joins Dearborn’s Unified Dispatch Center.
The comprehensive data recording devices include body worn cameras, interviewing room recording systems and data storage solutions.
Meyers said each police officer would receive a body camera, so about 80 to 90 units would be procured, along with approximately 35 in-car cameras.
He said four to five internal camera systems would be needed for interview rooms and booking areas. Backups and subsequent storage would be components of the system as well.
Meyers said the system will cost $700,000 to $1 million to lease for the next five years.
“This is an unfunded project at this point,” Meyers said. “If we can’t get it under this budget, then we will start looking at it for the next budget.”
He said it would cost about $200,000 annually to maintain a comprehensive data recording system of the size the DHPD needs.
Meyers said its current system is at the end of its life, and the department does not currently have body cameras.
He said the community wants more transparency, and the police officers want body cameras, but there will still be privacy issues with the public which will have to be addressed, including what is seen and recorded inside of private residences.
Meyers said it might also necessitate the establishment of a full-time Freedom of Information Act coordinator because of the large amount of data which will need to be reviewed to fulfill certain FOIA requests.
“It’s not just camera systems,” he said. “There is a huge expense, both on the front end and the back end, to operate a fully functioning professional body worn camera system, and we are going to start realizing some of those expenses.”
Meyers said one of the best ways to protect both officers and the public is through the use of body cameras.
He said owning the equipment is not financially prudent since the technology is changing so rapidly.
Meyer said the only way the department can afford the system for this fiscal year would be if it achieves cost savings by utilizing Dearborn’s Unified Dispatch Center.
“If we don’t realize those money savings from the dispatch project, then I can’t fund this project under this budget year,” he said. “One doesn’t happen without the other.”
Meyers said the financial savings DHPD would realize in the first year from joining the combined dispatch would allow him to lease the comprehensive data recording system this year; otherwise he would have to wait until the next budget year, to establish a funding mechanism.
“It puts the cameras in the cars and onto the officers, as well, and I do believe it will cut down on liability,” he said. “I do believe it will cut down on citizen complaints, I do believe that uses of force will go down, and I do believe our officers will be protected better.”
Meyers said it is a fine system to protect the department’s police officers.
“The equal benefit is that it protects the citizens as well,” he said. “I don’t see any down side, other than the cost of the program.”
Meyers said, in the long term, the system will pay for itself.
“Honestly, we may not have that choice, depending on legislation,” he said. “So, it may become moot at some point, but being a professional law enforcement agency, by providing the best services that we can to our community, this is the right move forward for Dearborn Heights.”