Man petitions Hazel Park to equip police with body cameras

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 25, 2016

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HAZEL PARK — An activist and aspiring politician from Oak Park is collecting signatures in Hazel Park to petition City Council for a proposal on the ballot this November that would require police officers to wear body cameras recording their actions when dealing with the public. 

However, city officials say the proposal is not feasible since it doesn’t include a funding mechanism to pay for it, nor does it take into account issues such as the cost of hiring a full-time officer trained in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws who would redact footage to protect the privacy of victims, witnesses, juveniles and so on. 

Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher said the intent is noble, and the city has been researching the use of body cameras, but there are still many variables to consider.

“I want to be clear: We’re not philosophically opposed to cameras,” Klobucher said. “There are just more details to work out regarding cost, privacy and the law.”

Andrew Cissell, 28, the petitioner, admitted that he hasn’t talked to the city about the issue, and that adding body cameras might require a tax increase. However, he said body cameras are in the best interest of the community, especially in the racially diverse metro Detroit area where tensions could run high. And the voters would still get to decide what’s done and how.

“The key point is, No. 1, to increase the safety of both officers and the civilians they deal with, and No. 2, to create higher transparency between our public officials and the people they serve,” Cissell said. “There’s a lot of he said/she said stuff (in cases about alleged police abuse), and this will clear up stuff on both sides.

“We all know what’s going on across the nation (with police shootings),” Cissell added. “These body cameras are the wave of the future. It’s almost like marijuana legalization — it’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of how soon.”

Cissell has aspirations of running for political office in the 27th District, and he said this petition will help prove to voters that he can get things done. Previously, he spearheaded efforts to legalize marijuana in the 27th District.

He estimated that the cameras would cost an average of $1.50 per household, based on communities across the country that are of similar size to Hazel Park. This does not necessarily take into account the wealth of those communities, the obligations they may already have, or other factors unique to Michigan communities, such as the interaction between Proposal A and the Headlee Amendment, which sharply limits the revenue that a municipality can receive from rebounding property values.

“It’s not a perfect initiative. There’s room for error, but the city can figure it out,” Cissell said. “The most practical approach might be a millage, but the city would have to figure that out, and what kind of data vendor to use and so on. The cost is for them to decide. I’m just firmly confident that the cost won’t be too high that the taxpayers won’t want to pay it.”

He noted that the body cameras could also save the city a lot of money by quickly resolving liability cases that might otherwise drag on in court. With body cameras, the city would be able to prove it’s not at fault in litigious issues, he said.

Klobucher said body cameras would cost much more than $1.50 per household, between the cost of data storage and retrieval, the need for multiple batteries per shift, the training of officers, and the need for an additional full-time officer who would redact footage in compliance with privacy laws, among other concerns. He questioned how Cissell came up with the $1.50 figure.

“This petition drive is not the way to go about this. There are serious problems with respect to the way this is being done,” Klobucher said. “First, there is no funding mechanism to do this. (Cissell) wants to make demands on how these will be deployed. There are things in the petition that are in conflict with the law, with other agreements we have or with different consortiums we belong to, so there are a lot of problems with the legality of the petition itself.”

Hazel Park Police Chief Martin Barner said that body cameras are something the city would have to approach with care.

“What’s going on is typically a knee-jerk reaction to some incidents that have occurred across the country, however tragic they may be. Some think (body cameras) are some huge panacea, something that will make the problem go away if just every officer had one, but that’s not the case,” Barner said. “There are many things that need to go into the implementation of a body camera — the purchasing, training, maintenance, storage.

“And there are still laws regarding what can be obtained in FOIA requests,” the chief continued. “You’re not supposed to reveal information on victims, witnesses, juveniles, children, injuries, things of that nature. So that in itself would require a huge amount of time and equipment to redact video that might identify these people. You’d need to create another full-time police position to do that — I can guarantee it, with the number of FOIA requests we get. It’d be a very sensitive position; they’d have to be someone well-versed in FOIA laws.

“This is just something that needs to be thought out a bit more thoroughly,” Barner concluded. “Let’s slow down the pace a bit, really look into this and see what we’re talking about.”