TRAVERSE CITY — Body cameras for police are now in Traverse City’s budget, although the city doesn’t yet have a deal to buy them.
City commissioners on Monday unanimously approved setting aside up to $100,000 in general fund money to buy the equipment. It’s one of nine demands the Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force made to city and Grand Traverse County law enforcement, and one city Police Chief Jeffrey O’Brien said makes sense if people are requesting it.
O’Brien said he believes it’s a good opportunity for the department amid its ongoing push to implement community policing standards. He quoted a line from former Pres. Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing stating that if anyone feels they’re being treated unfairly, that’s a problem for everyone.
“If people of color are asking us that they want this to make them feel better … that’s the goal we’re trying to reach in our police department for the last five years,” he said.
Courtney Wiggins, a member of Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force, said she believes the buy will help people feel safer by providing accountability both for people and for police. She stressed that the task force doesn’t favor defunding police departments but rather wants to work with them to make Traverse City safer.
Body cameras aren’t a new idea for Traverse City police. O’Brien in 2017 suggested buying them but the idea never came to pass, as previously reported.
Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe, who originally revived the idea following the task force’s request, said it’s overdue. The department already has a policy covering body camera use, and already trains its officers on that policy — O’Brien said the department put all of its policies online, as the anti-racism task force requested.
Traverse City police are trying an app to use cell phones as body cameras, O’Brien said. While standalone body cameras might be obsolete in five years, city police can get new cell phones every year and the app can be updated.
Plus, there’s no physical storage for the videos, unlike the department’s former dashboard cameras, O’Brien said. The department bought those from a company that’s since gone out of business, and cell phones could replace those as well.
City Manager Marty Colburn originally was set to bring back more information to city commissioners at a future meeting, but Shamroe went ahead and moved to amended the city budget Monday.
Commissioners will vote on a contract later, city Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht said.
Mayor Jim Carruthers said he’s glad to see the idea moving forward as the country goes through trying times.
“It’s a nice thing knowing our local police force is being responsive in reacting to the concerns of our citizens and wanting to do these things right,” he said.
The move has public support, although one audience member said he’s opposed to requiring city police to use body cameras, arguing it signals animus towards police. That animus, he said, is based on a narrative that police have problems with systemic racism, a narrative the commenter argued is false.
Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force members also are meeting with Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley to ask his department to add body cameras, as previously reported. That’s among other task force demands like ending U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds on nonviolent offenders and requiring bias training for every law officer.