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Marion moving ahead with body cams

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

Two weeks ago Marion Mayor Jess Alumbaugh could not be nailed down on the issue of buying body cameras for Marion police, saying he “could” get the project going soon but needed more time to make a final decision. Tuesday, Alumbaugh was asked to answer a yes or no question: would the city be purchasing body cameras?

His response: “Yes, we are.”

Alumbaugh said he guessed he might come before the City Council to ask for money for the cameras sometime in mid-December.

Before purchasing decisions can be made, Alumbaugh said, the city will need to research different models. He said Marion Police Chief Angela Haley is working on testing different cameras to determine what type would be best for the department.

A preliminary quote provided to the council two weeks ago put the cost to supply the department with body cameras at $332,000, but Chief of Staff Mike Flynn said the different models and brands will come with different price tags, possibly less than originally thought.

Flynn called the cameras a “long-term commitment” and said the cameras would likely come with a three to five year agreement.

The initial push for body cameras came from Council members Henry Smith and Don Batchelor, who during budget hearings said they would not vote for a budget that did not have body cameras in it.

Batchelor said Tuesday that although the 2019 budget doesn't set aside funds for the cameras, he takes Alumbaugh at his word that cameras will be purchased.

“The mayor has said it is going to happen … our concern has been addressed, and I'm on board to support this budget,” Batchelor said.

Smith was not present at Tuesday's budget committee meeting.

Council member Lynn Johnson suggested the city add the cameras as a line item in the police department budget to ensure the city follows through with the project.

But City Controller Julie Flores said the city could, with the approval of the council, use money from the city's EDIT fund to pay for the cameras. Flores also said after the initial payment, additional money for the cameras would likely not need to be added to the budget until 2020.

The city will also most likely have to hire an additional employee in the police department to oversee the cameras and the storage of videotape. Alumbaugh said that will require another additional appropriation sometime next year, since that hire's salary won't be provided for in the 2019 budget.

If the city can purchase the cameras before the end of the year, Alumbaugh said the system could be “up and running” in early 2019.

The implementation will most likely require several new policies for the city, as well.

City Attorney Tom Hunt said he would work on drafting an ordinance to govern the management of the video and how the city will handle video footage requests. Hunt said state law already lays out fairly restrictive access regulations that the city ordinance would follow.

Alumbaugh said the city would be looking for “the Cadillac” of body cameras, saying the city's “days of settling” are over and they need to invest in quality.