Wilmington City Council members are pushing to fund body cameras for the city’s police department despite its failure to secure a federal grant for the program.
Councilman Vash Turner says he has directed Council staff to draft an amendment that would direct $2.5 million of the city’s budget surplus to fund a body camera program put forth by the city’s police department earlier this year.
“I think the lead needs to be taken,” he said. “The Mayor speaks about he wants to do it and he’s sitting on a $3.2 million surplus, so show that you want to do it.”
Wilmington PD applied late this spring for a federal Bureau of Justice Assistance grant that would have funded part of the equipment costs of the multi-million dollar program, but recently learned it did not receive it.
Spokesman David Karas says the department plans to reapply for the grant at some point, but is not yet aware of the schedule for the next round.
He says the department trusts Council and the administration to determine where funding should come from. “There are certainly some steps or some processes that we’ll go through once the funding is secured and once a funding source is identified, but certainly we’re ready to move forward with it— and certainly see the benefits of the program.”
The program proposed by the department would outfit all 315 officers with cameras and add four additional positions to administer the program. The department has projected it would cost more than a million dollars the first year and nearly $900,000 each subsequent year, totalling more than $4.5 million for the first five.
At last week’s full Council meeting, Councilman Trippi Congo, Councilwoman Yolanda McCoy and Councilwoman Rysheema Dixon expressed support for a budget amendment to fund the program.
At Monday’s committee meeting, council members including Ciro Adams asked the police department to submit cost estimates for a program that would outfit a reduced number of officers with cameras.
City spokesman John Rago told Delaware Public Media in June the Mayor’s Office would "discuss with council members the most feasible way to fund a body-worn camera program” and was looking at options other than a budget amendment. He said this week the administration is still working with Council on the issue.
City Council President Hanifa Shabazz supports the body camera proposal, but questions whether the city’s operational budget surplus should be used to fund it. The city’s budget shows a projected surplus of nearly $3.2 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and nearly $2.6 million in Fiscal Year 2020. “That surplus is there for a reason,” said Shabazz. “It’s beneficial to the city.”
She says she would prefer any plan that is as cost-effective as possible, like funding body cameras for only a portion of the police department to start, then progressively expanding the program to the whole force.
“I don’t want to sound like I sound anti- body cameras,” she added. “I’m just saying, if we’ve got $2 million, could we be doing something that’s more preventive and interventive?” She says she would like to see any money saved put toward programs that address the “social ills” causing crime in the city.
Aisha Jones was among several citizens who spoke at the meeting in support of body cameras. She identified herself as the fiance of Ricardo Hylton, who was killed late last month in a police-involved shooting in Wilmington.
Councilman Turner says body cameras would have provided clarity about the incident.
“I don’t know if it would have changed the situation, but we would know what happened in the situation, wouldn’t be so many conflicting stories,” he said. “That’s the point of the body cameras for me, is we would know the story.”
Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy said in the case of Hylton’s shooting, body camera evidence would have been “just a piece” in the overall investigation.
Others citizens supported body cameras as a means for building community trust— and expressed frustration at how long it is taking for the city to fund them. The Wilmington Police Department first tested body cameras in a pilot program in 2016.
“We need body cameras no matter what the cost,” said resident Dion Wilson.
Turner hopes if a budget amendment to fund the body cameras is introduced soon, the program could be implemented before the end of the year. Wilmington Police Inspector Cecelia Ashe said at the committee meeting that the department could begin to roll out the program 45 days after funding is secured.