Clawson approves purchasing body cameras for police

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published September 22, 2020

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CLAWSON — In a 3-2 vote Sept. 15, the Clawson City Council approved the purchase of body cameras for the Clawson Police Department at a cost not to exceed $76,000.

The funds will come out of the city’s $1.8 million general fund, according to Finance Director Lori Fisher.

Due to requests from the public to implement body cameras in light of recent national events, Clawson Police Chief Scott Sarvello introduced the item during the last City Council meeting Aug. 18. The council directed staff to do its best to identify funding for the expensive purchase, as the Police Department did not include the item in its budget.

Fisher said she shaved down extra costs from most departments’ budgets and, as such, the cost would have to come from the general fund. She said the unplanned purchase may mean the city may have to sacrifice a capital purchase, such as a new dump truck or fire engine.

In a memo to the City Council, Fisher wrote that the useful life of the cameras is five to seven years and the city would need to reserve approximately $15,000 in future years as part of replacement planning.

“Things look quite well right now, but a lot of that was stimulus money and the money pumped into the economy,” she said. “Most people are expecting this year to be fairly good, and then with everything catching up with the economy in 2021-2022, we’ll start seeing the harder days at that point.”

The proposal from WatchGuard includes body cameras for each police officer in the department that are compatible with the department’s existing in-car cameras, as well as data storage.

Sarvello said the single bid was due to the existing five-year contract the city has with WatchGuard for the in-car cameras. With two and a half years under warranty, he said, bundling with WatchGuard would save the city money.

The biggest negative, he said, is the cost, while the positives include footage of events in heated situations, improved behavior of police officers, training opportunities and increased safety for the public.

Sarvello said he submitted two requests for grant funding up to $21,000, although the city would have to front the total sum before being reimbursed with the potential grant money.

Because many agencies are moving forward with purchasing body cameras, Sarvello said the wait time to get them is anywhere from 45 to 90 days.

Councilwomen Kathy Phillips and Susan Moffitt cast the two “no” votes.

“I think it’s a good thing for the officers to have body cams. Everybody else seems to be getting them, and you don’t need them until you need them, so I think today’s the day we need them,” Councilman Lou Samson said. “This is the time we need to support our police officers who put their life on the line every single day. This would be a great tool for them.”

Phillips said she felt the Police Department could use them down the road, but she preferred to wait until the city better understood its finances and the impact of COVID-19.

“We don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Phillips said. “It’s a big chunk of money out of our pocket right now and we don’t know what’s going on, budget-wise.”

Moffitt said body cameras are important and a hot topic, but that she would rather the city be prudent with its resources and put the purchase off until the next budget year.

“I know a lot of communities are doing it, but Clawson, again, does not have to be like all communities. I think it’s something we should put some time into and not just jump on the bandwagon because other people are doing it,” Councilwoman Paula Millan said.

Despite saying she “would probably not be in favor of it” because of how the matter came up, the city’s limited resources and the city’s “limited scope of information,” Millan cast a “yes” vote.

“We’re going to do this one way or the other,” she said. “The money is not going to miraculously appear within the Police Department’s budget any other way.”

Mayor Reese Scripture also changed her vote from “no” to “yes” after being persuaded by Sarvello; interim City Attorney Renis Nushaj, who called the purchase “crucially important”; and members of the public who voiced support for the purchase in the text chat portion of the virtual meeting.

“The officers are on board with it. No one is against it. Everyone that I talked to said it can only benefit us,” Sarvello said. “You don’t know when an incident may occur that this body camera may help bring light to an entire situation, not just for us, but for all the public, the residents and the citizens, to see the scenario.”

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