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St. Louis County police seek body, dashboard cameras

St. Louis County Police car
Paul Sableman
St. Louis County police are looking for companies to provide dashboard cameras for all 350 of its patrol vehicles, as well as 120 body cameras.

St. Louis County police are a step closer to using body and dashboard cameras on a full-time basis.

The department on Tuesday officially asked companies to submit bids for 350 dashboard and 120 body cameras. Companies have until May 4 to respond.

The department ran a body cam pilot program with about 75 officers in 2014, just after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer. County officials hoped to have officers wearing the cameras sooner, said Chief Jon Belmar, but the department could not afford the cost until voters last year approved a half-cent sales tax.

“We have to build out infrastructure to accept the downloads and different things such as that. And of course you have to pay for the initial implementation phase of acquiring the equipment. Beyond that, you know, there’s a maintenance fee on that,” Belmar said.

The 350 dash cameras would be enough for one in every patrol car in the department’s fleet, Belmar said. Officers would also wear a microphone on their belt that will allow for audio recording if they are not in the car. Members of special units like SWAT or MetroLink will wear the body cams.

“The patrol officers are more tightly hooked to their police cars, that’s kind of their office,” he said. “And special operations officers, for example Metro and K-9, oftentimes they’re out on foot, and they’re going to be dealing with things to where it’s probably better off having a body cam.”

The cost of the cameras, as well as yearly maintenance and storage, won’t be known until bids come back, Belmar said. He remains confident that there will be enough revenue both now and in the future to support their use.

County officers should be using the cameras by October, Belmar said. About 50 officers with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department are also expected to be wearing body cameras by the end of the year. Officials in the city approved a free trial with Axom, previously called Taser, in September, but had to work out details of the pilot program and costs associated with managing the equipment and the footage before deploying the cameras.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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