The Carolina Beach Police Department is looking into government grants to purchase body cameras for its 20 street officers.
Thanks to a donation to the police department, 10 cameras were purchased and put into use a month ago, according to Interim Police Chief Harry Humphries. He said the department is looking to buy 10 more so that all beat cops are equipped with one.
Following several controversial encounters between police and the public over the last year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $20 million Body-Worn Camera Pilot Partnership Program in May. As part of President Barack Obama’s proposal to invest $75 million over three years to buy 50,000 cameras, the pilot program is meant to “respond to the immediate needs of local and tribal law enforcement organizations,” according to the news release.
Of the money provided by the program, $17 million will be allocated for the cameras themselves, $2 million for training and technical help and $1 million to develop evaluation tools and study best practices. A third of the 50 grants the DOJ plans to award, which will require a 50 percent cash or in-kind match, will go to smaller law enforcement agencies, a category Carolina Beach falls under.
Through the Governor’s Crime Commission, the state of North Carolina is also offering funding to agencies under the Statewide Infrastructure and Technology Improvement Initiative. This initiative will award up to $60,000 to local governments and $120,000 to state agencies and require a cash match of 25 percent.
Grant seekers must use the money “for programming that will support technology initiatives to enhance the readiness and effectiveness of a department’s day-to-day operation using technology resources to ensure a safe working operation for its employees and clients,” according to a document from the Criminal Justice Improvement Committee.
“These are actually federal funds that are coming down through the state,” said Jerry Haire, the project manager for Carolina Beach, who is also in charge of grant writing for the town. “Body cameras would be an eligible expense” under this program, Haire said.
Most of the department’s squad cars are already equipped with dashboard cameras that activate when the blue lights are turned on or can be switched on manually. Humphries advises his officers to use it “with any citizen contact that may become controversial or adversarial.”
“It’s really for the officers’ benefit,” said Humphries. “We’re really complying with everything when it comes to mobile vision.”
The largest cost, according to Humphries, comes from the digital storage of the footage recorded from the cameras. Funding is needed for a computer system that can hold all of the data.
“Storage is expensive,” said Humphries. “Our current servers are not big enough to handle it. We need a stand-alone unit to handle all the memory.”
The federal grant explicitly states the cost of storing information from the body cameras lies with each individual agency. The state grant, which requires that grantees share their information in already existent state databases, says that “funds may purchase hardware, communications and required software licenses to support a web-based record management system OR to fund hardware and communications to submit crime data.”
Both grants have other requirements, such as training programs and usage policies.
“They want you to have a comprehensive policy in place,” said Haire. “We’re working with staff here and working with how we’ll be developing a program that will be part of our application process.”
Haire and his team are still in the research stages and will have their documents prepared by the next application cycle. According to him, the deadline for applications is in November for the state grant and next June for the federal grant.
“There’s money to be had, so we’ll see what we can get,” Haire said.