The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is recommending the city spend $7 million with the Taser company over five years to buy and operate 1,400 body cameras, a purchase that Chief Rodney Monroe said is a priority.
CMPD told City Council on Monday that it wants to buy the Axon Flex Body Camera, manufactured by Arizona-based Taser. The department said five camera manufacturers submitted proposals to the city, and the CMPD field-tested two types of cameras.
CMPD also gave council members an overview of how the cameras would work, when cameras would record and how images would be saved.
Council members are scheduled to vote on the purchase Jan. 26.
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CMPD has had video cameras inside patrol cars since 1997. It purchased body cameras for its motorcycle unit in August 2012, and added cameras for another 26 officers last year.
This purchase will put a camera on each officer, creating a massive amount of recordings between police and citizens.
“Our officers liked the ease of use. They are quite durable,” said CMPD Major Stephen Willis, who made a presentation to council members Monday.
CMPD policy would be for the cameras to record all traffic stops; any instances when an officer stops and frisks someone; uses of force; searches of property or people; and anytime a citizen requests it.
In some instances, the cameras would start recording automatically. When officers turn on the blue lights on their patrol cars, the cameras would begin recording. They also would also begin recording when an officer activates a Taser.
The cameras will always be capturing images, though not recording them. When an officer starts recording, the previous 30 seconds will also be stored.
Monroe said it will be CMPD policy for the cameras to be turned on, though he acknowledged there will be instances when an officer either forgets or chooses not to activate the cameras.
“We will have officers that won’t turn them on,” Monroe said. “We will have to weigh each one of those situations.”
The cameras will not record when an officer begins an active investigation, such as taking statements. One reason is that state law requires some of that evidence to be kept for 20 years, which would strain CMPD’s ability to preserve the data.
Council member Michael Barnes asked Monroe as to when an investigation would begin and whether cameras would record controversial events, a vague reference to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
“Bad things have happened once the investigative process has started,” Barnes said.
Monroe said those interactions would be recorded under policy.
In the first year of the cameras, the video would be stored under a Taser-managed site. After that, the city would create what it calls a digital management system.
The video would generally not be public record.
The city is seeking an exemption from the General Assembly to allow for citizens to view camera footage if they have made a complaint against an officer.
Most of the money would come from the city’s capital reserves.