A police officer wearing a body camera.
WOOD RIVER — Police Chief Otis Steward spoke before city council members Tuesday night concerning the option to purchase body cameras for each police officer in the wake of a controversial shooting in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9.
Investigators are using cellphone video from witnesses to piece together the events that occurred on that day ... questions that could have been quickly answered if Officer Darren Wilson was fitted with a body camera that records audio and video.
“Bulletproof vests are required for every officer; we’d buy them even if they weren’t, but I look for these cameras to be required in the future,” Wood River City Manager Jim Schneider said. “It would be very nice to be one of the first departments to have it before it’s mandated.”
The cameras being researched by the police department are within the range of $200 to $400 per officer. The cameras have a small screen where a situation can be reviewed quickly. Only two of the department’s cars are fitted with dashboard cameras, so adding body cameras will provide the department and citizens with added security. Events in Ferguson have reminded local departments that the smallest encounter can escalate quickly and can happen anywhere, not just the larger cities.
“There are a lot of incidents where a camera may have prevented things from getting escalated,” Steward said. “People may think twice or make different choices if they know every officer has a camera on their uniform. The camera will not record every moment of the officer’s shift, but will be turned on the moment they are sent to a call or decide to stop an individual.”
Wood River Mayor Fred Ufert commended the council on its decisions over the past fiscal year and taking responsibility for the community.
“The council takes into consideration things that are needed, not just wanted,” Ufert said. “We’re fortunate that they take the time to find grants and low-interest loans that can be easily paid off; that’s a good reflection of our council.
“Grants have been given to cover the costs of bulletproof vests and the city council and police department intend to discover if there are grants available that could apply to the cost of the body cameras for the officers,” Ufert said. “Along with the cost of the camera itself, storage of the information gathered on each camera must be considered. The most cost-effective way to store the video and audio will also be researched.”
The council will continue looking into the possibilities of uniform cameras in coming months.