Wilmington’s City Council held up a grant application from the city’s police department Thursday following yet another discussion of body cameras.
Don Farrell, a resident of Wilmington’s East Side, argued at Thursday’s City Council meeting that the cameras are vital to curbing violence in Wilmington.
“Those cameras are sorely needed,” he said. “In addition to everything else that you’re seeking, the body cameras, that would go so much further in helping to build trust and a relationship with the police.”
City Council approved six Wilmington Police grant applications to state and federal funds for expenses including overtime for enforcement of Protection From Abuse order warrants attempts, surveillance cameras and new shotguns.
But Council voted narrowly to send a resolution approving a grant application for Trikke electric scooters back to committee. Some council members argued the police union may want to negotiate policies surrounding the possible new equipment, as they are doing with body cameras.
Councilman Sam Guy suggested Council could be “getting played as a sucker” by approving other grant applications for the Police Department before getting body cameras, which he argues the community wants.
“Constantly, these [resolutions to approve grant applications] come through City Council, and constantly we support equipment being provided to the Police Department," he said. "But … it seems none of them ever have to do with the effort to get body cameras."
Other council members joined Guy in expressing frustration that body cameras are not closer to rolling out, after Department leadership said they were all but ready to purchase and implement them last June. The Department later failed to secure a grant to partially fund the program, and a proposal to pay for it using a budget amendment remains in the Public Safety Committee.
Public Safety Committee Vice Chair Chris Johnson said last month that a body camera policy under which officers can be disciplined requires an amendment to the police union’s contract.
“To implement a full body camera [program]— to be able to suspend officers, fire officers, discipline them when they don’t follow the body camera protocol, you have to amend their contract,” he said at January’s Public Safety Committee meeting. “So that’s where the process is now. I know the public wants it, I know they want it today, but in order to make it an effective program, there has to be disciplinary authority. … It’s about doing it the right way.”
President of Wilmington’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge Greg Ciotti confirmed Friday that body-worn cameras will be part of contract negotiations, but declined to comment on why, since those negotiations have started. He added the union would likely not negotiate around the proposed electric scooters.
Wilmington Police spokesman David Karas says the Department hopes to apply for a federal grant to fund body cameras if it becomes available in the coming months.
“We will continue our efforts to identify available grant funding for a range of needs for the Wilmington Police Department – involving training, equipment like body-worn cameras, and other resources that can assist in our efforts to increase public safety in Wilmington,” said Karas in an email. “These grants, which often come from our partners at the state or federal level, allow us to continue to move this agency into the 21st century while mitigating the impact on the tax rate by offsetting how much our residents pay to support these innovations.”