Bangor is finally equipping its police officers with body cameras, after city councilors voted 6-3 Wednesday night on a proposal to spend $364,049 over the next three years to lease the cameras and storage space.
The council has been considering outfitting officers with cameras for at least two years, with the goal of building more trust between police and citizens, but the initiative has been delayed in part so city officials could develop a policy to ensure citizens’ privacy would not be violated if they are caught on video.
The proposal gained additional traction this past summer, amid a set of local and national protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Councilors were also adamant that they should pair the body camera proposal with other measures to address racial disparities in the city, such as the creation of a new advisory committee on diversity and inclusion that was also approved on Wednesday night.
To launch the body camera program, Bangor will also need to hire a new information technology coordinator for the police and fire departments and pay $144,722 out of its construction reserve funds for startup costs. It will lease the cameras from WatchGuard, a Seattle-based security company that also provides the video cameras in Bangor Police Department cruisers.
The only councilors who opposed the measure were Rick Fournier, Angela Okafor and Dan Tremble. Tremble and Fournier expressed concern about the large price tag for the cameras when the city faces an uncertain financial future during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tremble also suggested that the funding could be better spent on homeless outreach or health care workers who could provide some of the social services that now often fall to city police officers. The council considered the proposal after earlier discussing a significant uptick in the city’s unsheltered homeless population.
“There are so many areas where the police department could better spend” that funding, Tremble said. “A body camera won’t help one homeless person get shelter. You’re not going to prevent one overdose death with a body camera.”
Okafor voted against the measure after agreeing with Tremble that the city could look into using the funding for some of those other priorities.
But City Finance Director Debbie Laurie noted that it might not be possible for the city to redirect all of that funding to those types of positions, and City Manager Cathy Conlow said it might not be possible to revisit the proposal until a new council was in place in November.
The council approved numerous other initiatives during its long virtual meeting on Wednesday night.
Councilors approved the formation of the new advisory committee on racial equity, inclusion and human rights. The group, which will review many new municipal and school proposals before they are passed, will include representatives from the NAACP, the Penobscot Nation or another Wabanaki group, the LGBTQ community, a spiritual group, a labor group, the Maine Multicultural Center, the business community and a health care or educational institution.
The council agreed to ban discrimination against people based on their gender identity in areas such as employment, education and housing, giving more comprehensive protections than the federal government currently does. Since 2001, the city has had an anti-discrimination ordinance that protects people based on their sexual orientation, but it did not have specific protections for people based on their gender identity.
Councilors also voted Monday night to accept two separate grants to help the city run its elections this fall and to launch the creation of a new overdose response team that will offer intensive outreach to people who have received medical treatment for a drug overdose.