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St. Louis Police Union Expresses Skepticism About Body Camera Proposal For City

Ald. Joe Vaccaro (in yellow) examines a body camera during a meeting of the St. Louis Ways and Means committee. The city's public safety department hopes to purchase 1,000 of the cameras, at a price tag of $1.2 million.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

The union representing St. Louis police officers is raising questions about the proposed $1.2 million price tag for body cameras for the department.

Public safety director Richard Gray told the city's budget committee today that the $1,200-per-camera price tag includes all the necessary hardware, plus secure storage space for the data. He said he wants to purchase about a thousand cameras, which would be enough to equip the city's 900 or so patrol officers, as well as some detectives and crime scene technicians. About 300 officers are on the streets at any time in overlapping shifts.

"What we've seen through research is that there's not a fear of cameras as long as the policies are correct," Gray said.

Details on how and when the cameras would be used are subject to collective bargaining with the St. Louis Police Officers Association. The union's business manager and state Senate candidate Jeff Roorda, would not discuss "the merits and the detriments of the equipment" with the committee, saying it was not the appropriate venue to do so.

But he said bargaining over the policy needs to take place well before the city looks to purchase any new equipment like body cameras.

"The union would probably want to know why our salaries lag $9,000 below the average of the region, why our officers have outdated firearms, and yet the city suddenly has funds to purchase this equipment," Roorda said.

Alderman Chris Carter, of the 27th Ward, pointed out that the city had spent nearly that much money to help support St. Louis County and other departments in Ferguson.

"I think that these cameras are ... coming to the aid of some of our people who feel under-protected, and at the same time will help officers too," he said.

Alderman Terry Kennedy, who leads the budget committee, said he'd like to find the funds in the current fiscal year budget, which took effect in July.

"I think the city at this point, based upon the budget that was passed, could afford some kind of pilot approach to implementing the use of cameras," he said. That might mean "a smaller number purchased, the creation of the necessary policies that governs the use of them as well as (giving) protection to privacy rights."

The committee took no action today on any funding mechanism for the cameras. Kennedy said he was interested in possibly using funds from a stalled bond issue to cover the up-front costs. Richard Gray, the public safety director, said federal grants were also an option.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.