Wichita police to outfit officers with cameras

? The Wichita Police Department announced Wednesday that it plans to outfit all of its patrol officers with body cameras by the end of 2015, a process police said has been accelerated in the wake of the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Wichita had already begun incrementally outfitting some officers with cameras before the Ferguson shooting, but the plan unveiled Wednesday made body cameras a priority — even going so far as to ground the city’s police helicopter to free up the funding.

The body camera program is not just in response to what is happening on the national level, but also comes out of community discussions, City Manager Robert Layton said. The community believes the body cameras are a tool that will help foster more community cooperation and trust in the police department, and officers strongly support the move, he said.

“It has been identified as a Wichita approach and solution, and not just because there is something going on in another community,” Layton said.

The initial $927,200 to buy and operate the 444 body cameras would be funded by grounding the helicopter next year, in addition to using grant money and drug seizure funds. Those costs include $1,300 for each camera, plus purchasing the docking stations and other operating costs. Ongoing costs would include data storage and software licensing, staff to manage the stored video evidence, replacement parts and batteries.

In all, the city estimated the 10-year cost of body camera system for all officers at $6.4 million. Officials say they are assessing whether to scrap the air section altogether later on and use those savings for the cameras’ ongoing operating costs.

The department is also closely watching whether any federal money will be available for the cameras.

President Barack Obama is asking Congress for funding to buy 50,000 body cameras and to look for ways to build trust and confidence between police and minority communities nationwide. He proposed a three-year, $263 million spending package that includes $75 million to help pay for 50,000 of the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job, with state and local governments paying half the cost.

Obama’s statements came after the uproar and protests over a grand jury’s decision last week not to charge Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Brown. Brown’s family wants to see every police officer working the streets wearing a body camera.

“This is a national conversation right now about body cameras — heck, the president is out there even putting money and saying, ‘We are going to do this,'” Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley said. “So we recognize the need for the department.”