By Megan Fernandes Foster’s Daily Democrat
DOVER — At a time when communities across the country are calling for police accountability and transparency, the city Police Department will be joining the ranks of other area law enforcement agencies who have implemented officer-worn and cruiser-mounted cameras.
The Dover City Council unanimously approved the purchase Wednesday night.
While local police departments, including Dover, previously cited cost as a reason not to implement body cams, Dover Chief Bill Breault now has a plan to fully fund the costs upfront.
Breault went before the City Council last week to make his case, asking for the council to authorize the department to purchase a complete BodyWorn camera and vehicle camera system by Utility, an Atlanta company.
BodyWorn cameras essentially use the body and computer of a smartphone, but its sole purpose is to be a computer that records and transmits data. BodyWorn automatically records when triggers, like an open door or gun removed from a holster, are activated. It also has a host of safety features that alert dispatchers and nearby officers in instances of a struggle or in an officer-down situation.
Breault proposed using $193,000 from vacant position savings and $295,000 in general fund savings realized from federal COVID reimbursements to pay for the $487,444 system, stating it would equip all 52 of the department’s officers with a body camera and 12 police vehicles with cameras, all with unlimited cloud storage capabilities of all recorded mp4 videos over a six-year period.
Typically, these systems are on a five-year contract, paid partially upfront and mostly over time, but Breault negotiated a sixth year for free if paid upfront, to avoid impacting the city’s next fiscal year budget. After the six years, the contract can be renegotiated for an extended term or on a year-by-year basis. At current rates, the yearly cost would be about $80,000.
Besides costs, the biggest concern board members shared was the lack of a request for proposals, or RFP for short, to compare what other companies would charge.
“I do think that these are inevitable and I’m glad that we’re moving forward with it,” Councilor Fergus Cullen said. “I’d be much more comfortable if we had received any other proposals, so we had some compromises or points of comparison, even if this proposal was the best of the best technology.”
In July 2020, Breault formed an internal committee to examine the feasibility of implementing a body worn and police vehicle camera program. Breault said that in the time he, his department and task force team have researched this, he is confident that this is the right choice for his department.
“I agree, we probably could compare prices for general body cameras, but we wouldn’t be able to really get an apples-to-apples comparison,” Breault said. “The officer safety features and all those other things like instant uploading, that is something that’s very specific only BodyWorn offers that. BodyWorn is really, as I said last week, the Cadillac of body cameras.”
Councilor Michelle Muffett-Lipinski worried about the company’s small, but growing, presence in New Hampshire, and what she called a lack of data backing the cameras. The camera system was implemented in Manchester in 2019, and other New Hampshire departments that use this equipment include Hollis and Hudson, with three other unnamed departments he said are in the contractual phase. She questioned how the addition of these cameras have helped officers perform their duties or increase the community’s sense of confidence or safety.
“What is the data that comes behind it?” Muffett-Lipinski said. “Have there been an increase in arrests? … I don’t know if we’ve vetted all that out.”
Breault didn’t have those answers, but affirmed he has done his research and spoken with colleagues and associates from across the country to gauge the best options.
“I feel that we did do our due diligence in looking at a multitude of vendors,” Breault said. “There’s about five major vendors of body worn cameras throughout the country. It is relatively new in New Hampshire I don’t disagree with that, but they are well known throughout the country.”
City Manager Michael Joyal told the board that moving forward with this puts the department in compliance with the New Hampshire Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency (LEACT) recommendations.
“This is a best practice across the country, particularly these days. We certainly support proceeding ahead with this,” Joyal told the board.
Breault told the board last week that he believes officer worn and police vehicle cameras make the community safer and enhance the relationship between the police and community members.
“A camera program supports accountability and builds public trust, provides an accurate account of interactions between the police and the public, produces more, and better, evidence — making law enforcement more efficient, improves police performance and helps to identify training needs to enhance officer safety,” Breault previously said.