The Charlotte City Council voted unanimously Monday to spend $7 million to buy body cameras for police, putting the lipstick-sized device on each patrol officer by October.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe said the purchase will help his department adapt to increasing demands to record interactions between officers and the public.
The city will buy the 1,400 cameras from Taser International, which makes the department’s electric stun guns. Training and deployment will take six to nine months.
Local civil rights activists, the American Civil Liberties Union and police unions have all said police need the cameras.
“I think that we have avoided a lot of the criticism that a lot of the other departments have had over the last several months due to the investment we make and what we try to do every single day,” Monroe said.
He said the department needed to take note of the reaction to police shootings across the country.
“When you start looking at the temperature around the country, it changed,” he said. “We saw an opportunity to change with it.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Q. How will they work?
A. CMPD officers will start recording when they anticipate interacting with a member of the public. Officers will record all traffic stops; any instances when an officer stops and frisks someone; uses of force and searches of property or people.
In some instances, the cameras will start recording automatically, such as when officers activate the blue lights on their patrol cars. They also will 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 also will be stored.
Officers cannot delete information from the cameras, which will initially be stored on the manufacturer’s server.
Q. What do they look like?
A. The Taser Axon Flex includes a black camera the size and shape of a piece of lipstick. It’s attached to a battery pack and storage device that’s the size of a deck of playing cards. Officers can wear the cameras in a variety of ways, including attached to a headpiece or a pair of glasses.
Q. What’s the cost?
A. Police anticipate the total through the end of fiscal year 2019 will be $7.04 million. That pays for 1,400 cameras, additional hardware and software, operating expenses and 15 charging stations at police divisions across the city.
Most of the money would come from the city’s capital reserves. The CMPD Police Foundation has donated $250,000 to buy cameras. Additional money over the next four years will come from asset forfeiture funds and the department’s operating budget.
Q. Can the public see the video?
A. It’s not clear. Attorneys disagree on whether body camera footage is a public record under state law.
CMPD’s draft policy prevents the public from seeing the video, citing N.C. laws protecting personnel files and data that’s part of a criminal investigation. Police say their policy is in flux and may change to allow people who are recorded to see video about them like videos captured by dashboard cameras in patrol cruisers. Some defense attorneys have been able to get body camera footage in limited cases. Others say it should be more widely accessible.
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. Staff writer Steve Harrison contributed.