Battle Creek unanimously approves police body cameras

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — The Battle Creek City Commission voted unanimously to approve body cameras for the police department Tuesday night.

Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker requested $737,300 to enter into a contract with Utility Associates for their BodyWorn system.

City Manager Rebecca Fleury told the commission there are budgetary concerns right now, but this system is something the police department needs.

“It is very difficult. We know we are in tight budgetary times, but this purchase isn’t coming out of general funds. It’s coming out of risk self-insurance funds for a reason because of the necessity and the assistance it gives for safety for our officers and for the community,” Fleury said.

She said the advantage to contract with Utility is the money will be paid over several years and not all at once. The city will pay about $147,500 per year over the five years of the contract.

“The first two years of costs will come from the risk fund as a transfer in to help cover the costs,” a memo in the commission packet said.

Blocker touted the advantages of the BodyWorn system.

“While we were looking into body cameras, we also knew we had another critical piece of equipment that was breaking down and needing to be replaced and that was the in-car systems,” Blocker told the commission. “This particular vendor allows us to combine systems, in-car and body-worn. Also, we can do interview rooms. We can do it all on one platform.”

Blocker also told commissioners about a problem they ran into earlier in the day as they were trying to get video from their current dashcam system. He said it took three and a half hours to pull video from an incident earlier that morning from a traffic stop where an officer fired his weapon.

“That certainly can’t happen. Not today. Information flows faster than we can get in front of it,” Blocker said.

Later, he told the commission that it’s frustrating when they don’t have video of an incident due to lack of equipment or malfunction.

“We don’t like it when we can’t prove through video what actually happened. This is one way to get around that,” Blocker said.

Questions were raised by commissioners about privacy and limitations on storage.

“It gives me a lot more versatility in retaining information a lot longer even beyond those state retention standards,” Blocker said. “More importantly, it allows me to access it right away, and that’s something we didn’t have,” Blocker said in response to 2nd Ward Commissioner Lynn Ward Gray.

Blocker also addressed privacy issues related to FOIA and if people could ask the officers to turn the cameras off when they’re on private property.

“Right now, I think it really depends on why are we there. Most of our interactions occur on private property. Obviously, if it’s an event, a criminal one or a high-risk one, one where trauma has been induced and there may be a victim, those body cameras are going to be on,” he said.

The BodyWorn cameras will be used by patrol officers and sergeants on a daily basis. There will also be cameras for the Emergency Response Team and gang units to wear during high-risk events.

At-Large Commission Kaytee Faris asked Blocker about protocol if cameras aren’t turned on. Blocker pointed out one of the advantages to this particular system is that the cameras automatically activate whenever an officer does anything “kinetic.”

“If you’ve suddenly had to leap out of a car and pursue somebody and then you take them down and you’re not hurt, person’s not hurt and you’re really happy, next thing you know, you realize, I didn’t turn on my camera. It’s not a priority sometimes. And I know it may seem like it is to you, but unless you’ve had to do it, you have to recognize that it’s not,” Blocker said. “One of the things we were looking at is how can we build in a system that eliminates that lack of attention so to speak and inability, so that’s what this system does.”

“It will automatically turn on that camera in many different scenarios. You draw your weapon from the holster, camera will be on. The vehicle’s at a high rate of speed and you got a high pulse because you’ve got a sensitive watch — That will read your pulse, camera will come on. The lightbar comes on, the camera will come on. You’re running, the camera will come on,” Blocker continued.

The Battle Creek Police Department had a policy in place before the purchase of the cameras to decide when they should be activated. According to that policy, the cameras should be on in the following situations:

  • All enforcement and investigative contacts, including stops and field interviews.
  • Traffic stops, including but not limited to, traffic violations, stranded motorist assistance and all crime prevention stops.
  • Self-initiated activity in which an officer would normally notify Central Dispatch.
  • Any other contact that becomes adversarial after the initial contact in a situation that would not otherwise be recorded.

In addition to city funds, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority also awarded the city up to $6,000 for the cameras.