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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Foundation gives $250K toward body cameras

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com
Police Body Cameras
Damian Dovarganes - AP
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department now has $500,000 for hundreds of body cameras like the one Los Angeles Police Sgt. Daniel Gomez shows feeding video to his cellphone in January. They can be clipped to glasses, a collar or elsewhere to capture video and audio of interactions with civilians.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s effort to use body cameras – which can record officers’ interactions with civilians – is getting a $250,000 boost from a foundation that supports CMPD initiatives.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Foundation’s donation would bring the total amount allotted for cameras to $500,000 and will fund hundreds of them. The devices can be clipped to glasses, a collar or other parts of an officer’s uniform to provide video and audio of routine traffic stops, arrests and other interactions where conflicts can happen.

Police and civil liberties advocates say the cameras can give police and the public a better view of what happens during conflicts involving officers. In a pilot camera program last year, people who knew they were being recorded behaved better, officers said.

Last month, City Council approved buying enough cameras for about two divisions. The council would still have to approve a contract for the cameras, which would be funded by $250,000 of drug asset forfeiture money.

It’s still unclear how much each camera would cost. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Maj. Steve Willis, who heads the camera program, has said $250,000 would be enough to equip two of the department’s 13 patrol divisions. Ultimately, officers on different shifts might have to share cameras.

The cameras add to a growing focus on technology in the department, which already has access to hundreds of stationary cameras mounted on streetlights and telephone poles across the city. The department also uses Shot Spotter microphones to track gunfire in some areas of the city and tracks some crime suspects out on bond by satellite via GPS bracelets attached to their ankles.

The 10-year-old police foundation has typically invested in technology that is promising but not yet widely adopted by departments across the United States.

Getting funding from a private organization can also be a more nimble process than navigating the city’s budget approval process. The foundation funded fire extinguishers after a 2010 traffic wreck exposed a need.

“There’s a lot of things out there that can make police officers more efficient and more effective,” said Ann Henegar, the executive director of the foundation. “But everything costs money.”

The foundation has helped the department establish a crime lab to analyze DNA to solve cold cases, purchase mobile fingerprint readers and improve the department’s crime scene vans.

The foundation hosts its annual luncheon on Wednesday. John Walsh, a victim advocate and the former host of “America’s Most Wanted” television show, is the keynote speaker.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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