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Wilmington Police ready to move on body cameras, if they can get funding

Photo courtesy: Delaware State Police

The Wilmington Police Department says it is ready to get a body camera program off the ground  — after it finds funding.

Wilmington City Council’s Public Safety Committee heard a proposal from police officials Monday that would outfit all officers with body cameras.

Police officials say the report follows a pilot program which tested several camera models in recent years and a review of other agencies’ policies. It also comes after several council members complained about a lack of funding for the cameras in the city budget for Fiscal Year 2020.

Police officials say they recently applied for a federal grant to fund part of the implementation costs. But council members also suggested amending the budget to use the city’s surplus.

Outgoing Councilman Bob Williams supports using a budget amendment, but only after a thorough discussion with the Mayor’s office.

“It’s a little late in the game after the budget’s already passed to ask for a major ticket item to get thrown on top of the budget,” he said. “So there’s going to be repercussions down the road. What they’ll be, I’m not 100 percent sure. But I think it's the right move at the right time.”

The department projects costs would total more than $1.1 million the first year, and nearly $900,000 each year after that. That includes roughly $500,000 each year to fund new positions for one sergeant and three police officers who would supervise and administer the program.

The federal Bureau of Justice Assistance grant the department applied for could cover half of the program’s equipment costs, or roughly $300,000 the first year, according to police officials. That means even if Wilmington police were to receive the grant, they would still need roughly $800,000 in the first year— from the city or elsewhere— to fund the program.

City spokesman John Rago says the Mayor’s Office “will discuss with council members the most feasible way to fund a body-worn camera program” and is looking at options other than a budget amendment.

Police officials say they will hear whether they have received the federal grant in September — but that the department is ready to implement the body camera program soon.

“We’re ready to go,” said  Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy. “We will be able to get this going. We already have the policy basically written. If there’s tweaks or something that has changed, we’ll make sure that it happens. And we’ll end up rolling it out as soon as we can.”


At the committee meeting, Tracy mentioned draft camera policies include spot checks of footage and some officer discretion on when cameras could be turned off. He said footage from body cameras connected to any major incidents would be reviewed by the department's Office of Professional Standards. A Wilmington Police spokesman declined to elaborate on the draft policies or how they will be finalized.

The department’s report says research is mixed on whether body cameras improve officer and civilian behavior.

“They’re finding more and more that it’s clearing officers, in cases of disrespect ... because once you go to the videotape, you’re finding out there might be some false reporting out there,” said Police Chief Robert Tracy. “Or visa versa, there might be some wrongdoing by our officers. But they’re finding more officers are cleared.”

Tracy says officers generally support them.

“People would think that officers are resistant to [wearing body cameras],” he added. “Actually when they have them and you do surveys, they like them. They want them.”

Tracy said at Monday's meeting that body cameras would be just one part of his police department's efforts to build trust in the city, which include community policing.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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