Royal Oak greenlights body cameras, new equipment for police

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published November 19, 2019

File photo

ROYAL OAK — On Nov. 11, the Royal Oak City Commission unanimously approved a five-year contract with Axon, formerly TASER International, to purchase new equipment and software for $1,034,111.59.

The package includes new officer-worn cameras, in-car cameras, next-generation Tasers, interview recording equipment, and a cloud-based digital evidence storage and management system.

Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue described the transaction as more of a subscription rather than a standard purchase and service agreement. Over the five-year plan, the body cameras will be replaced twice, and the in-car cameras will be replaced once.

He said the cost — $262,927.59 for the first year and $192,796 for the remaining four years — includes equipment discounts, trade-in discounts and a “sizable” discount for migrating the existing in-car videos into the network.

“Migrating the existing hard drive of in-car videos into the Axon network is something we need to do very quickly, because that hard drive is literally being held together by duct tape and tin foil. We’ve had numerous problems with it, and it’s really at the end of life,” O’Donohue said.

He said the Police Department opted not to include installation of in-car equipment in the contract because it was less expensive to go with a separate company, Cynergy Wireless Products. The cost would be $500 per police vehicle, for a total of approximately $11,500 for all of the department’s 23 vehicles.

“I don’t have that quote yet,” he said, and added that the item likely would come before the City Commission for approval early next year.

When Mayor Pro Tem Sharlan Douglas asked why the contract appeared to be a no-bid contract, O’Donohue said that he requested a quote from competitor WatchGuard, but he was impressed with Axon’s fully linked, user-friendly interface and technological advancements.

During a May 23 budget session presentation in which O’Donohue introduced the future purchase to the City Commission, he said it is the only system that links up with CLEMIS, or Oakland County’s Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System. It also includes Oculus virtual reality for simulation training.

“Virtual reality is really, I think, the future of police training,” he said.

During the budget session, O’Donohue said he waited on moving forward with the purchase of body cameras because he had concerns with the technology, the storage and management of data, and privacy.

The new body cameras, he explained, turn on automatically when the speed of the vehicle reaches an adjustable threshold, the light bar is activated, the gun rack is disengaged, if the vehicle is in a crash, if a Taser is activated, or if a gun or sidearm is unholstered.

“During a critical incident, we cannot give our officers just one more thing to think about when they should be thinking about what their job is,” he said. “If something does happen and that camera isn’t on, there is a presumption the officer did something wrong or is hiding something, and primarily that is not the case.”

He said the new cloud-based system has unlimited storage and automatically combines information, such as interrogation video, body camera video and reports, by case. Currently, officers have to manually download in-car video onto the hard drive and burn a disc to be placed into evidence.

“If we have something we want to release to the media, right on the press release there will be a link. They can go right to it, and that link can actually have an expiration date,” O’Donohue said.

He said the process of keeping victims’ identities private will be easier, as the software will allow police to tag a face and it will automatically redact the identity. Additionally, he said, Public Act 85 of 2017, or the Law Enforcement Body-Worn Camera Privacy Act, exempts recordings made in a private place by an officer wearing a body camera from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

“People involved would be entitled to a copy,” he said.

The body cameras, he added, also include GPS tracking and the option to livestream video. The video retention period is a minimum of 30 days, but O’Donohue said the department would opt to extend it for longer, to 45 to 60 days.

“Once we tag it, if we decide to keep it, it will be kept forever. There’s no limit to how long we keep it,” he said.

Lt. Keith Spencer, of the Royal Oak Police Department, said the data collected by Axon is the property of the city, and at the conclusion of the contract, if the city opted to discontinue the contract, Axon would return all of the data.

O’Donohue said officers’ reactions to the use of body cameras is mixed, but that it was an inevitability.

“Police officers are held to a higher degree of scrutiny than any other government employee,” he said. “We are the only ones that have the authority to take other people’s freedoms away. We should be held to a very high standard.”

Mayor Michael Fournier said he was excited to “lead the way technologically.”

“I think it will keep our police officers safer, and keep our citizens safer, and will help us, especially when it comes to prosecuting crimes and things of that nature,” Fournier said. “This is really something that is going to enable us to do some pretty modern police work, so we’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, it’s received well and we’ll give it a try.”

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.