The Fairhope City Council on Monday approved the purchase of 40 new body cameras for the Fairhope Police Department.
Equipping officers with body cameras is not a new idea in Fairhope, but newer, higher-quality cameras were needed, Chief Joseph Pettis said.
“The previous chief had purchased some body cameras,” Pettis told the council. “They worked good at first, but wouldn’t hold up.”
Pettis said of the 20 cameras purchased at a convention for about $190 a piece, only about two remain. He said the company that maintained the original cameras had gone out of business.
The city purchased the new VieVu cameras for $30,420 and got 10 percent off the price through the Houston-Galveston Area Council purchasing contract, Council President Jack Burrell said. The price comes out to about $800 per camera and allows all 36 sworn officers and Pettis to have a camera.
In addition to being broken, many of the old cameras were harder to operate, Pettis said. Previously, an officer had to spend more time pushing a sequence of buttons to turn on and record with the camera. The old cameras led to safety complaints.
The new cameras can be turned on and will start recording once an officer pulls a flap down. The cameras can record for four consecutive hours and hold up to 12 hours worth of recorded video, which would last an entire shift, Pettis said. The new cameras have a sturdier clip to cling onto the lapel of a uniform. In the past, officers complained about the cameras falling off their uniforms and a few even got lost, Pettis said.
In addition, Pettis said the footage from the new cameras can’t be manipulated and can only be downloaded onto a computer to be prepared for court.
The new cameras ease of use and recording life would also lead to a change in the way officers are trained, Pettis said. Instead of only using the cameras in situations where there is a confrontation, officers will now be able to start recording at the beginning of every interaction they have while on the job, Pettis said.
Mayor Tim Kant said body cameras come in handy when an officer is challenged by a citizen on what happened during an encounter.
“We’ve had a number of incidents of ‘he said, they said,’” Kant said. “We just want to make sure everybody does right.”
The body cameras come in addition to dash-mounted cameras already mounted in the city’s police cars.
The Mobile City Council recently discussed buying body cameras for officers within the Mobile Police Department.
Councilors Levon Manzie, C.J. Small and Fred Richardson supported the idea of body cameras after a citizen complained at the last council meeting that her son was being racially profiled by police.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said he would leave the decision to purchase the cameras to Chief James Barber, but added other capital expenses within the department, like replacing older patrol cars in the fleet, are more important. Body cameras for the entire Mobile Police Department would cost an estimated $400,000 to $500,000.
Councilors also pushed the idea for a citizen review committee to look at complaints filed against Mobile police. Barber and Stimpson each said there was enough oversight already in place and a citizen panel wasn’t necessary.
In other business, the Fairhope City Council approved rezoning land at the northwest corner of Grand Avenue and Bon Secour Avenue from R-4, low density multi-family to R-2 medium density single-family.
The council voted unanimously to approve paying the local 20 percent match required for the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization to fund a traffic signal system technology enhancements study. The city will pay $2,047 toward the study. Kant, who is chairman of the organization, said leaders wanted to look at synchronizing the traffic signals along U.S. Highway 98 from State Highway 44 to U.S. Highway 31 in Spanish Fort.
The council declared a long list of about 30 items as surplus and allowed Kant and the city treasurer to sell the items through a bid process. Used bulletproof vests, which were on the list, will be donated to Ten-Four Ministries to give to departments that can’t afford vests of their own.
The council granted permission to the Eastern Shore Optimist Club to use city property behind the Fairhope Public Library from Nov. 24 to Dec. 20 for their annual Christmas tree sale.
The council also approved a measure to place two speed bumps on Morphy Avenue to help with traffic near parks. The goal is to slow traffic to 15 miles per hour.