The Bangor City Council will again consider Wednesday night whether to outfit local police with body cameras that can record their interactions with members of the public.
Bangor councilors considered funding a body camera program last year, but ultimately decided against it because of the cost and lingering questions about how to protect the privacy of people caught on camera.
But the matter is coming back up in a nation that looks much different from last year — let alone a few weeks ago — after cell phone footage of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, being killed by Minneapolis police officers in late May sparked a wave of national protests against police brutality and racial inequality.
They were already planning to reconsider the proposal this year, but it is drawing fresh scrutiny after the national protests that have spread across the country to Bangor and other Maine communities, according to City Council Chairperson Clare Davitt, who was one of the speakers at last week’s rally that drew an estimated 500-600 protesters to downtown Bangor.
Davitt said councilors have recently received at least 15 emails from people who support equipping Bangor officers with cameras, as well as a small number from people with concerns about the proposal.
Besides the initial costs of buying the cameras, city councilors will also have to weigh the ongoing costs to run the program as well as a projected loss of revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic. To help administer it, the police department would need to acquire additional data storage space and hire a new information services technician, a position that would be shared with the fire department, according to Davitt.
City officials were not immediately able to provide an estimate of the price tag for the body camera proposal because it was still being calculated on Tuesday, according to City Manager Cathy Conlow. Last year’s proposal would have cost the city about $175,000, and a preliminary budget proposal for next year estimated the information services technician position would cost $92,000.
The recent national protests have sparked calls for other communities to equip their police officers with body cameras, including in New Bedford, Massachusetts and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also recently called for all officers to wear them.
At least two other Greater Bangor communities, Orono and Brewer, have already equipped their local police officers with body cameras.
In Bangor, councilors generally seem to support the concept because it would provide another layer of transparency for both police officers and members of the public, Davitt said. But she said the costs will be an important factor in the discussion Wednesday night.
So far, Davitt said that she has not heard any explicit calls to defund the Bangor Police Department, as activists are now demanding of other departments around the country, but she said one person has opposed the body camera proposal in part because it would require putting even more funding into local law enforcement.
Last year, a bill in the Maine Legislature would have required all police officers to wear body cameras, which can record video as officers make traffic stops, visit people’s homes or do any of their other work. But the Legislature ultimately decided to form a working group to consider the issue after receiving mixed reaction from law enforcement, municipal officials and civil liberties advocates, according to a national analysis earlier this year by the Pew Center.
While there was a large national push a few years ago to equip police officers with body cameras after the protests that followed high-profile police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and other places, the Pew Center found that the research is mixed on whether they lead to reductions in the use of force by police officers.
Watch: Police push back on protesters on Franklin Street in Portland