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Police Chief Dotson: Body cameras unlikely to be deployed until next year

St. Louis Metropolitan Police officers raise their weapons at a preshift meeting 3.23.15
File photo | Katelyn Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department likely won't be wearing body cameras until sometime next year.

A 90-day pilot program with about 70 sergeants wraps up next week, St. Louis Chief Sam Dotson told the city's public safety committee on Thursday. He'll then get feedback from the officers involved and the public, and decide whether to sit down and negotiate a camera policy with the St. Louis Police Officers' Association.

"I think the Metropolitan Police Department realizes the value of body cameras. I certainly do, and that's why we started this pilot program," Dotson said. "Certainly the privacy issues in Jefferson City will have a role in my decision. This is a balance between community confidence and trust in their police department and trying to get the laws to catch up."

The issue isn't with what officers record, Doston said. It's what footage is available through public-records requests. Lawmakers have introduced several measures that place various limits on what can be released, frommaking all footage closed records to blocking access only to footage shot in homes, schools and hospitals.

Privacy and access to the footage remain the primary concerns so far for the St. Louis Police Officers' Association, said business representative Jeff Roorda.

"But the overarching concerns is, where is the money coming from?" Roorda said. "I just wonder aloud where that money is going to come from in a city where the police are so grossly underpaid that we can't get people to apply for the 100 vacancies we have now."

Dotson said he and budget director Paul Payne have identified one-time funds to purchase about 800 cameras for the department, at a cost of $400 each. The bigger expense, he said, is data storage, which could run as much as $100 a month per camera. The department will also need to hire an extra person to help keep track of the evidence, he said.

Aldermen will begin debating the fiscal year 2017 budget in April.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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