Evansville city councilman willing to talk downgrades to EPD body cams

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Technology today has cameras watching everywhere. They’re in buildings, on street corners, and even in our pockets. But an Evansville city councilman is open to changing cameras worn by police officers.

“We’re using body cams here, I think that’s good,” said Republican Justin Elpers. “It records the police behavior, and it will keep them in check.”

There is a balance between cost and protection, and Elpers is willing to talk about both. “The body cams that the city is using, they are very expensive. They have extra bells and whistles.”

City Council recently approved $1.5 million in the 2020 budget for upgraded EPD body cams. Elpers says the officer’s new gear is top of the line.

Elpers is asking if less expensive equipment could help to put more officers on the street. “Whatever money we save there, maybe we can use that for recruiting,” he said.

Reverend Gerald Arnold, President of the Evansville NAACP, thinks the best of the best is priceless.

“The body cams prove the guilt and innocence of the citizens and the arresting officers,” said Arnold. “I commend the Evansville Police Department for going to the top of the line, getting the best equipment, because we need it to be able to see the things that were done in the dark and they brought it to light.”

Elpers’ Democratic challenger for the 5th Ward, Jennifer Yaser is open to the opinions of police.

“If they do want to scale back the body cams and use more of those funds for more officers, I’m all for that,” she said. “I feel like it’s kind of naïve, what he said.”

EPD Sgt. Jason Cullum said efficient use of officers is more effective than increasing numbers on patrol.

“We do not feel that downgrading a valuable tool like body worn cameras to increase staffing is the right approach for our agency or our community,” he said in a statement.

Starting in November, EPD is adding six officers to motor patrol between three shifts. It is in direct response to the recent Fraternal Order of Police no-confidence vote where most officers said they’re concerned about numbers on the street.

According to Cullum, the body cams EPD uses have many built-in safety features. For example, they activate automatically on certain runs, so an officer won’t forget to turn it on. The equipment also comes with cloud storage, Cullum said, so it allows the department to have quicker video review.

“The use of body worn cameras have been widely praised by law enforcement agencies and community members alike. Earlier this year, we upgraded our body worn cameras to a system to meet the ever-changing demands of our profession and the expectations of our residents. While every agency would like to have more staffing, researchers have shown that the efficient use of officers is more relevant than the number of officers when it comes to crime reduction. We welcome input on crime reduction strategies. However, we do not feel that downgrading a valuable tool like body worn cameras to increase staffing is the right approach for our agency or our community.”

Sgt. Jason Cullum – Evansville Police Department

EPD’s system costs $300,000 per year, according to Cullum. Even if the department eliminated body cams, the money saved would increase manpower by one officer per shift.

“The proven benefits of our body camera system far outweigh the speculative benefits of adding one officer to each shift,” said Cullum.

Evansville doesn’t buy individual cameras; the entire system comes with dash cams and software to manage videos.

Vanderburgh County Sheriff, Dave Wedding says its body cameras cost $550 each. The Sheriff’s Office has less sophisticated equipment than EPD and does not have cloud storage for videos.

Cullum said another benefit of body camera video is potential cost savings in litigation. One video proving an officers’ actions can possibly save thousands of dollars in court costs, Cullum said.

Elpers plans to have conversations in the coming months to find the best ways he can help protect and serve alongside the men and women in blue.

“They have their opinion, I have my opinion,” said Elpers. “I also need to look at the dollar amount.”

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This story was originally published on October 21, 2019

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