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Clawson examines body cameras for police officers

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published August 25, 2020

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CLAWSON — During the Aug. 18 Clawson City Council meeting, Clawson Police Chief Scott Sarvello introduced a bid for police body cameras for approximately $75,000.

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 training and 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.

He said he wanted to introduce the item to the council since interest in equipping Clawson police officers with body cameras is high, especially in light of recent national events.

“Obviously, since the George Floyd incident in May, we’ve been asked by a couple council members and received emails from citizens asking why the Clawson Police Department does not have body cameras and asking if we would look into the topic of body cameras,” Sarvello said. “Neither myself nor any member of my department are against body cameras.”

The No. 1 barrier, he said, is the cost of purchasing body cameras. The Police Department did not budget for them, and the funds would likely come out of the city’s general fund.

The positives include footage of how events transpired in heated situations, improved behavior of police officers while wearing body cameras, training opportunities for police officers and an increase of safety for the public in all interactions.

Sarvello said members of the Police Department recently met with a WatchGuard representative at City Hall and were impressed with the new body camera technology.

“They are not large and bulky like they used to be. They are very small and won’t interfere with officers’ work,” he said. “They are very compatible with uniforms and the outer vest some officers wear.”

Body cameras are a hot topic at the moment, and due to many agencies looking into body cameras, Sarvello said the wait time to get them is anywhere from 45 to 90 days.

“We’ve had WatchGuard products in our cars for approximately eight years, and we’ve had no issue with them. If we do have minor issues, they quickly fix it and send out replacement units so our unit is not out of service,” he said.

He added that 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.

Mayor Reese Scripture said she was in full support of purchasing body cameras for the Police Department, but that the cost was an issue.

“I simply will not accept that what happened to Mr. Floyd is an ‘incident.’ It was a brutal murder,” she said.

While all of council expressed support for the police body cameras, the majority expressed a desire to identify funding before proceeding with the expensive purchase.

“This year, I cut most line items in the budget, and I think, overall, I took money out of pretty much every department, trying to shave down any extras,” Finance Director Lori Fisher said. “We don’t have $75,000 in the budget.”

If the council opted to finance the body cameras for police, Fisher said the city may have to sacrifice a capital purchase, such as a new dump truck or fire engine.

The council subsequently unanimously approved a motion put forth by Councilman Lou Samson to postpone the item to the agenda of the next City Council meeting, set for Sept. 1, “with all the funding figured out.”

Scripture said if staff gave its best efforts to identify funding and came back to council at its next meeting without new information, that would be “OK.”

“I just wanted to get it out to the public to let them know that we’re not sweeping it under the rug and we’re not ignoring the body camera issue,” Sarvello said.

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