The Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) will take part in its second pilot program for body-worn cameras after the city council voted unanimously to approve a contract with Axon Enterprise Inc., the nation’s largest purveyor of body-worn cameras.
Under the new pilot program the number of LBPD officers who will be wearing body cameras will be approximately 200 with those officers being dispersed among two of the four divisions in the city. LBPD Chief Robert Luna did not clarify if those officers would be in the city’s west and south divisions, as they had been under the department’s previous pilot program, or if the city’s north or east divisions would be included.
The program will last for one year with an option to extend the pilot program beyond that at the city’s discretion but could be cut short after a review period that’s expected to come after six months. The request came from Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price who said she was discouraged that it has taken the LBPD this long to implement a permanent citywide program.
“I work in a county where nine out of our ten agencies are using Axon and we’ve had 30-day pilots, several-month pilots…a one-year pilot is a very long time,” Price said.
“From an operational standpoint I would like us to get the police department online as soon as possible because I believe that body cameras protect not only the individuals who come into contact with the police but also the police officers who are often alleged to have participated in conduct that in fact upon viewing the body cameras they did not do.”
Luna said part of the reason for the long pilot program is for the city to be able to assess when it would be able to have the technical and personnel capability to run Axon’s system. A staff report projected that the new pilot would cost the department the equivalent of three full-time positions, or about $350,000. To make the pilot program permanent the report concluded it could cost the department the equivalent of eight full-time positions.
“Could it be less? It absolutely could,” Luna said of the pilot program length. “But when I come back to this council I think my job is to provide you with every answer that any of you may have regarding every box that I need to check to make sure that we are making a very wise investment because this is expensive. I agree with you, I think it’s a necessary tool but it’s going to take a significant budget enhancement for us to make this happen.”
But the obstacles could be more than money.
The technology that the Axon cameras have will demand a lot of bandwidth and could require better digital infrastructure than the city currently has. Assistant City Manager Tom Modica said that fiber throughout the city, especially linking it to the city’s police departments, would be necessary.
But a previously approved deal with local telecom providers that would allow for fiber connections to city departments that currently lack them, ones that could eventually be absorbed into the city’s planned fiber network expansion, could provide a bridge that would allow the pilot program to be expanded to more parts of the city.
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