In the last few weeks, multiple people have mistakenly congratulated me for my successful campaign in lobbying the City of Wichita to place body cameras on Wichita police officers. Please allow me to explain why, despite recent news stories and Mayor Carl Brewer mentioning the issue during his State of the City address, we have achieved no victory of any significance.
Last month, on January 14th, 2014, I addressed the Wichita City Council to request that funding be appropriated to place cameras on the uniforms of all Wichita police officers, while they are on patrol. My statement before the Council and Mayor Brewer’s response can be viewed in this video:
Before I entered the Council Chambers that morning, I spoke briefly with City Manager Robert Layton, who informed me that he is not opposed to placing cameras on all of our police officers, and that the issue is in finding the money to do so. He also informed me that there are currently approximately 40 such cameras in use and that WPD budget allows for 8 more cameras to be added this year.
I asked Layton about the possibility of using forfeiture funds to purchase additional cameras. Forfeiture funds are assets seized by the department, often from drug raids, and these funds can be used at the department’s discretion. However, Layton informed me that legally, forfeiture funds can only be used to finance non-budgeted items, and because the department has already budgeted the 8 cameras, forfeiture funds cannot be utilized for that purpose.
After addressing the City Council, I spoke with Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams, and Captain Troy Livingston, who heads up the department’s administrative bureau. Both Williams and Livingston expressed a desire to have cameras on all of the officers, although Williams was against a state mandate forcing all officers to be equipped with such cameras, which I mentioned as a possibility in my speech before the Council.
Williams’ objection to the state mandate is a reasonable one, as no department wants an outside entity dictating the use of funds. Livingston informed me that in order to equip every officer on a given shift with a camera, the department would need an additional 250 cameras, and then explained that in addition to the cameras themselves, they would also need funding for securely storing the data generated by the cameras.
Again, the primary opposition to the cameras, according to the City Manager, Chief Williams and Captain Livingston is the lack of funding for the project.
A few days after my address before the City Council, I held a calling campaign, where people in Wichita called the Mayor’s office to request that the city find funding for cameras. By my best estimate, roughly 50 people participated in this calling campaign.
On January 28, two weeks after I addressed the Council, while giving his annual State of the City address, the Mayor mentioned that by the end of the year, 50 Wichita police officers would be equipped with body cameras. Two days later, local NBC affiliate KSN did a story on the addition of these cameras. The ten new cameras, according to that report, will cost the City $18,000, which includes data storage costs.
Several of my friends either saw the Mayor’s speech, the news story, or perhaps both, and have, as I mention above, mistakenly congratulated me for running a successful campaign. Unfortunately, the only thing I have succeeded in doing was to get the Mayor to mention the new cameras in his speech. These ten new cameras were already included the budget for this year. The other 40 have been in place for several years.
I do not believe that adding cameras at the rate of ten per year is an effective measure to bring transparency and accountability to the Wichita Police Department. At this rate, it will take 25 years to equip all of our officers (we are only seeking to equip the officers who are on active patrol) on a given shift, which again, according to Captain Livingston, will take an additional 250 cameras.
The cost to purchase 250 additional cameras, at the rate of $1,800 per camera, is $450,000. This is roughly the cost of ten fully-loaded police cars. The Wichita Police Department clearly has no trouble purchasing new vehicles each year, which anyone who drives in Wichita can see.
While we often hear about the City of Wichita’s budget, which gives a detailed account of how the city intends to spend our tax dollars throughout the year, we rarely hear about the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report [CAFR], which shows us how the money is actually spent.
Looking at the CAFR for the City of Wichita, for the fiscal year of 2012 (2013 is not yet available online) we immediately notice that the picture used on the cover page of this document is of the Law Enforcement Memorial, a project that was financed by private donations at a cost of $750,000. By all accounts, placing cameras on police officers increases officer safety, yet donors are not lining up to pay for these cameras.
The Wichita Police Department, in 2011, spent over $74,000,000, but cannot come up with $450,000 for cameras, which, coincidentally is ten-fold the amount of the settlement being paid to the family of Jerome Dixon, a man fatally shot by Wichita police officers, under dubious circumstances. With five fatal police shootings in one year, at least three of which have resulted, or will result in lawsuits against the City, one can easily see that we will save money by preventing further unjustifiable shootings.
The Wichita Police Department is being sued so frequently that the City was actually forced to hire outside, private counsel to defend against the onslaught of suits, because the City Law Department was unable to keep up.
While we can applaud the beginning of a camera program for Wichita police officers, the city would greatly benefit from a more serious and immediate approach. Given the large amounts of money our city wastes, sums vastly higher than $450,000, purchasing these 250 cameras is a sound investment and a wise use of taxpayer money.