Eastpointe approves purchase of police body cameras

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published September 18, 2020

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EASTPOINTE — The Eastpointe City Council has approved the purchase of a system of body cameras and upgrades to in-car cameras for the police officers of the Eastpointe Department of Public Safety.

The council approved the purchase at its meeting Aug. 11, and Director of Public Safety George Rouhib was directed to look for bidders for the new camera system.

“We are in the investigative phase,” said Rouhib. “We are looking at quotes for body cameras and additional in-car cameras. We need new cameras for the cars because we need to link them in one system. … We were going to buy body cameras for our next capital improvement budget (next year), but in light of what is going on in the world, we wanted to move it up. The timing was right.”

Rouhib compared buying the cameras for officers without buying the cameras for the cars to putting tires on the front of a vehicle but not on the back, explaining that because the cameras link, they are all needed to show the whole picture of any event they want to review.

The officers would have to activate the cameras during any law enforcement encounter. While some council members wanted more specifics about what constituted a law enforcement encounter, Rouhib said it would be during any encounter with a citizen with the possible exception of some public events such as fundraisers where the officers are on duty but not on patrol. The data is automatically downloaded when the officer and vehicle return to the department.

Rouhib said they have narrowed their search to three potential vendors. He added that finding the right company to buy the new system from is important because rushing into a purchase could cost the city thousands of dollars.

“It can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000,” he explained. “That’s the main reason that many departments don’t already have them. It’s not the cameras that are so expensive, it’s the data storage that costs so much. You need the hardware to store 30 days or more of footage from every officer and vehicle in the field.”

“We know we’ll need to not only pay for this system this year, but also upgrade it and maintain it in the future,” said Councilwoman Sarah Lucido at the Aug. 11 City Council meeting. “When considering this purchase, I think we need to look at it as an investment.”

The city will attempt to defray the cost by looking for grants as well.

“We might be able to find grants to pay up to 1/3 of the cost of the purchase (of the hardware),” said Deputy Chief Eric Keiser. “It depends on which vendor we go with and what grants we get responses for.”

Rouhib and the council stressed how important a tool the cameras can be — for both citizens and officers.

“Transparency and accountability is so important,” remarked Rouhib. “When a police officer has a camera on, someone they’re dealing with may reconsider assaulting that officer too. It keeps the officers safe, it helps with training, and it makes people more secure so that they can trust their police officers.”

Rouhib also said he has seen such cameras prevent departments from being sued for false claims against officers.

“Obviously this is a very important decision cities have to make right now, and it’s one I know a lot of residents are curious about,” said Mayor Monique Owens. “Clearly we need to make sure we are making the right decisions for our residents when it comes to accountability.”

Rouhib said that with the social and political climate around law enforcement today, any tool to assure the public that its law enforcement is working to protect the safety of its citizens without violating their rights is worthwhile.

“If an officer violates a policy, they will be held accountable. We want people to know that,” he said. “We talk a lot about police reform and this is a tool to do that. I’m excited about it.”

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