by Zack Plair
January 16, 2021 9:49:17 PM
Starkville aldermen on Tuesday plan to approve a $621,600 contract for a new police department body and vehicle camera system.
During Friday’s work session at City Hall, aldermen placed the contract with Select Utility Inc. on its consent agenda, meaning it could pass Tuesday without discussion. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, who chairs the city’s budget committee, said the city would pay for the camera system through a multi-year financing or lease purchase agreement. The city budgeted about $200,000 this fiscal year toward the camera upgrades, one of the listed goals of the city’s 2-mill property tax increase approved in September.
Equipment would include 60 body worn cameras and 40 vehicle cameras, along with sensors that would automatically activate the cameras in certain situations without the officers having to do it themselves, SPD Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady said. All cameras are GPS capable, he said, and they would replace the aging manual camera system and offer better internet connection in the vehicles.
Cameras will automatically activate during a pursuit, when an officer’s gun is unholstered or if an officer is down, among other times. Also, the system will capture two minutes of “pre-event” recording that can be reviewed. The system comes with unlimited iCloud storage and recordings are automatically saved and uploaded.
Police Chief Mark Ballard told aldermen the system would provide the “transparency and accountability people want from public safety.”
“This is just the next phase in the evolution of the body camera,” Ballard told The Dispatch after the work session. “It takes one more task away from the officer to where they can fully engage in their responsibilities without having to worry about, ‘Did I turn my camera on? Is it working properly? Is the battery OK?’
“You can train and train as an officer, and you’re still not always going to remember to turn your camera on first, especially under duress,” he added.
The new system also will include equipment that will allow a senior officer at headquarters to see another officer’s camera feed in real time and issue the officer instructions.
Select Utility’s bid wasn’t the lowest, but Ballard told aldermen it is the “best bid” because it is “turnkey.”
Lower bids included monthly fees for various services, Lovelady said. The Security Utility bid covers equipment service and replacement for five years, and the only extra monthly fee will be cellular service for the camera SIM cards.
Once the contract is signed, the cameras should be delivered within 90 days, officials said.
“This is a major step for us,” Mayor Lynn Spruill told The Dispatch. “One of the reasons we are willing to spend this kind of money on this is because protection and accountability are incredibly important. This (system) protects the city, our officers and our citizens.”
Ballard also presented aldermen Friday with the new look for the Code Enforcement Division.
Last year, the city moved code enforcement from Community Development to the police department’s purview. SPD hired Justin Maynard and Sarah Perez as dedicated code enforcement officers.
Their uniforms will be polo shirts bearing the city’s emblem and khaki pants, rather than a police uniform, what Ballard called a “softer look.”
“I think it’s important these guys look more like building inspectors (than police officers),” Ballard told the board.
The city is launching a web page to better educate citizens on building codes and will soon dedicate a phone number for code enforcement complaints, rather than having those routed through 911.
In other business during Friday’s work session, Starkville Utilities Department Director Terry Kemp updated aldermen on projects finishing up early this year, as well as future infrastructure plans.
A sewer project in Green Oaks that will affect 250 homes will begin in February, with an estimated completion date in September, Kemp said. After Green Oaks is finished, workers will improve sewer infrastructure in the Rolling Hills subdivision.
SUD is completing a new southwest substation that should be online next month. Meanwhile, a wastewater treatment biosolid project continues that Kemp said will eventually phase out use of the city’s lagoon.