Wichita police officials will use grant dollars and money seized in drug arrests to buy nearly 450 body cameras – and may ground the police helicopter to pay for ongoing costs of managing the cameras.
Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley said Wednesday that buying 444 body cameras will cost an estimated $577,000, with another $350,000 for docking stations, equipment and connectivity costs.
City Manager Robert Layton said last month the money to outfit every police officer with a body camera by the end of 2015 would have to come from the current budget, requiring a series of cuts to free up revenue.
“In looking at all our options, we’ve had to make some difficult decisions,” Mosley said.
Grant money normally used to buy Tasers and other police equipment will be applied toward buying the cameras, along with money seized in drug cases. Grounding the air helicopter for 2015 will pay for the first year of ongoing expenses, Layton said.
Future funding sources for continuing expenses and replacing cameras will be identified later.
“Cameras have been identified as one of the top priorities for the department,” Layton said.
Annual operating costs for the body cameras are projected to be about $350,000, Mosley said. The air section’s budget for 2015 is nearly $346,000.
“Over time, due to budgetary concerns, flight time has been reduced,” he said.
The helicopter is now budgeted for 200 hours of air time a year.
“They’re on a call-out status,” Mosley said. “By the time they get there, a lot of times the call is over.”
Police departments around the country have begun contracting out air surveillance activity, and Mosley said that is something local officials may consider in the future. The Wichita Police Department has had a helicopter since 1970.
Local officials said they will pay close attention to congressional action on President Obama’s proposal to offer federal dollars to help pay for body cameras. Mosley said the proposal would provide money that would have to be matched 50-50 by state dollars.
Obama announced plans to buy 50,000 more body-worn cameras for local law enforcement in response to national attention over the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Depending on how much federal money Wichita receives, Mosley said, it may allow police officials to eventually return the police helicopter to service.
“This is a national conversation right now about body cameras,” Mosley said. “We recognize the need for the department.”
While the fatal shooting in Ferguson and the ensuing protests and riots “accelerated the process” of getting body cameras for police, he said, he noted that the department already has 80 of the cameras – 20 in each of the four police bureaus – and was looking for ways to add to that total.
Wichita police officials favor a camera mounted at eye level.
“That gives you the view of what the officer is seeing,” Mosley said.
The City Council will need to authorize the use of grant and seizure funds for the initial purchases of the body cameras, Layton said, as well as the purchasing agreements with the manufacturer of the cameras and support equipment.
That will come after the first of the year, he said.