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Police eye new car cameras to replace ‘unreliable’ units

With police in-car camera systems increasingly relied on for law enforcement operations nowadays, the Mount Airy Police Department is seeking to replace ones now being used which are “unreliable.”

Police Chief Dale Watson has proposed acquiring eight new camera units for patrol vehicles in its fleet at a cost of $104,046, a request expected to be approved by the city council today during a 6 p.m. meeting.

The motivation for this switch-over stems from L3 Mobile-Vision — which supplied Mount Airy’s existing camera systems — being acquired by another company, Safe Fleet, a transaction announced in early 2019.

This has presented problems, according to Watson.

“The previous devices from L3 were discontinued and the replacement units through Safety (Safe) Fleet are unreliable and a liability,” the police chief explained in a city government memo.

In-car camera systems are now considered the most efficient way to collect evidence against criminals when incidents occur, and at the same time are thought to make officers perform at a higher level knowing they are being recorded.

Along with promoting law enforcement transparency, cameras protect departments against unfounded lawsuits that arise in the absence of such footage.

Some police agencies also use in-car cameras as a teaching tool to show patrol officers how they might have handled traffic stops better.

Lease option pursued

Instead of buying the new in-car camera systems for Mount Airy patrol vehicles, a lease arrangement is proposed.

Watson mentioned that the department had weighed the cost of buying versus leasing the systems and believes the most-viable solution is a lease agreement through Motorola.

“With advances in technology and the costs associated, we feel the best option is to lease,” the chief stated in the memo. “Leasing will keep our agency in equipment that is supported throughout the term of the agreement.”

It calls for the eight in-car cameras to be leased over a five-year period at the rounded-up figure of $104,100 for budgetary purposes.

Along with considering a resolution tonight approving the lease agreement and payment to Motorola, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners will consider a separate measure amending the municipality’s spending plan for the 2022-23 fiscal year to provide funding for the units.

A similar situation arose in 2019, when plans were announced for the Mount Airy Police Department to undergo a $200,671 equipment upgrade including new body cameras worn by police and portable radios.

Body cams were first used by city officers in 2014 in an effort to take transparency to a higher level rather than relying on car cameras alone. But the system eventually began to fail due to changes within the company supplying the body cams and the department’s inability to acquire dependable replacements.

This led to an agreement with Motorola Solutions after the department learned it had a program that provided a free body cam with each purchase of a portable radio.

The camera problem coincided with word that portable radios city officers had used for about 12 years no longer would be produced, accompanied by technical support and repairs being limited.



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