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  • Bangor Daily News

    Ellsworth police will equip officers with their 1st body cams

    By Bill Trotter,

    25 days ago

    After a couple of years of consideration, a proposal to equip Ellsworth police officers with body cameras looks to be headed toward approval.

    The projected cost of $250,000 for the program also would include new cameras for all of the police department’s 11 cruisers, as well as the operating software and storage system for video recorded by the cameras.

    Capt. Shawn Willey said the department has had cruiser dash cams for several years and has been looking to incorporate body cams into the system. The cameras would be worn by officers on patrol and record both audio and video of situations and people that the officers come across when responding to calls for help.

    In recent years, the department’s proposal to add body cams to its officers’ standard equipment never made it into a budget that the city manager has recommended to the elected city council, Willey said.

    This year, new City Manager Charlie Pearce is recommending body cams for the police department. The council has voiced approval for the idea in budget workshops and is expected to include funding for it when it approves the citywide 2024-2025 budget at the end of the month.

    The use of body cams by its officers will increase transparency, assist in investigations, and help protect both officers against false claims and the city against liability issues, Willey said. Since the use of body cams by police has become standard across the country, people assume they are being recorded when they talk to Ellsworth officers.

    “The public expects us to be recording them,” Willey said.

    Because the funding has not yet gotten final approval from the council, the department has not yet worked out a policy on exactly when cameras will be turned on, he said. But the software can be integrated so they automatically turn on when an officer responds to certain kinds of calls such as a robbery, or when the officer turns on the siren and lights on their cruiser.

    The accompanying software also would allow police to protect the privacy of people who have been recorded by blurring out faces or other identifying information before any video might be publicly released, Willey said.

    Department officials say they would purchase 20 body cams and 11 new cruiser cams as part of a package. The reason for buying new cruiser cams is that the department’s current models are being phased out by the manufacturer and will no longer be serviced.

    “It’s becoming outdated,” Troy Bires, the department’s interim chief, told the council about the cruiser cams. “We’re just not going to be able to get parts for them. When they’re gone, they’re gone.”

    The department would own, rather than lease, all the equipment and supporting software, including the digital storage needed for all the recorded video. The purchase can be financed, however, which would allow the city to pay off the cost over five years, according to Willey.

    The council has discussed whether to include funding for the cameras in the 2024-25 budget, or whether to raise the money through a bond that local voters would consider in November. At a workshop earlier this month, the council was leaning toward including the cost in the 2024-25 budget and then paying for the camera system with federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

    If the council approves the funding in the new budget, which is expected to go into effect on July 1, the department likely would get the new cameras “up and running by the end of the year,” Willey said.

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