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Eau Claire City Leaders Speeding Up Timeline to Buy Police Body Cams

Tom Giffey

A police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, models a body camera in this 2016 photo. The Eau Claire City Council will soon start the process of getting body cameras for its officers. (Photo: North Charleston |
A police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, models a body camera in this 2016 photo. The Eau Claire City Council will soon start the process of getting body cameras for its officers. (Photo: North Charleston | CC BY-SA 2.0)

Nationwide attention to the issue of police accountability – prompted by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that followed – has prompted the City of Eau Claire to consider accelerating its timetable for putting body cameras on its police officers.

The Eau Claire City Council will likely act in July to begin the purchasing process for body cameras and related technology, City Council President Terry Weld said. Outfitting the Eau Claire Police Department’s 99 officers with body cameras has been a goal of city officials for several years, and $225,000 for them was included in the city’s capital improvement plan for 2022.

“Now with our world evolving and changing so quickly, I think there’s urgency to move that up. It provides a lot of opportunities for police enforcement and training, the safety of our officers and the safety of our residents.” –Terry Weld, Eau Claire City Council president, on purchasing body cameras for police officers

“Now with our world evolving and changing so quickly, I think there’s urgency to move that up,” Weld said of the purchase. “It provides a lot of opportunities for police enforcement and training, the safety of our officers and the safety of our residents.”

Each year, the City Council adopts a capital improvement plan (CIP) for the coming five years. The plan outlines purchases the city wants to make but hasn’t officially appropriated the money for. The next CIP – which the council will approve in July – will cover 2021 through 2025, and the current draft includes $805,000 for not only body cameras but also video cameras in squad cars and interview rooms.

The city learned late last year that it would have to replace squad car and interview room cameras because the company that sold them will no longer support the technology after 2020, so it makes sense to replace those systems and buy body cameras all from the same vendor, City Manager Dale Peters said. If the City Council approves funding for the body cameras and related systems in the CIP, then the city would go ahead with a request for proposals from vendors. Once the equipment is purchased, it could be installed sometime in 2021, officials say.

In addition to the cameras themselves, implementing body-worn cameras will require additional data storage and staff to manage that data, Peters added.

Since Floyd’s death while in police custody on May 25 – for which four officers face charges, including second-degree murder – numerous protests have been held in the Chippewa Valley, and an online petition calling for Eau Claire police to be outfitted with body cameras has received more than 2,000 signatures.

Peters said city officials and the police department recognize that, while important, body cameras are only one element necessary to create a good relationship between police and the public. “To me, it’s important to note that body cameras are just a tool,” he said. “Of course, they record after the event. Body cameras by themselves do not prevent misconduct. The best approach is to hire high-quality individuals who have good problem-solving skills and high ethical standards.”

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