FARGO — Fargo police officers could begin wearing body cameras as early as Aug. 2 after city commissioners unanimously approved purchasing the equipment on Monday, May 3.
Police Chief David Zibolski said a 14-member police department committee led by Deputy Chief Joe Anderson researched and looked at products from four vendors before deciding to work with Axon Co. of Scottsdale, Ariz., for the cameras and related technology.
The purchase will also include new tasers for officers, Zibolski said.
Mayor Tim Mahoney added that the tasers will be a different color than the handguns, referencing the recent incident in Brooklyn Center, Minn., where an officer is said to have mistaken her handgun and taser in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright.
In all, the new equipment contract will be for $2.8 million, which will be paid for using CARES Act funds that the city received last year in the first of the pandemic relief packages from Congress.
Axon Co. reports that once its cameras are in use, complaints to police departments dropped 88%, and use of force dropped 75%, Zibolski told commissioners.
The chief said from his personal experience, those numbers are pretty accurate, although national data suggests use of force may not drop quite that much.
"The cameras, though, give us an opportunity to capture the event and better understand what happened," he said.
Axon Co. also reports that when police use its body cam system, guilty pleas increased 20% and officer court time was reduced by 70%, Zibolski said, mirroring nationwide findings.
Commissioner John Strand wondered if the body cam videos would be available to the public and media.
Zibolski said the videos would first have to be reviewed and there is a tool to redact parts in case of legal restrictions on what can be shown, but the videos could be released to the public. Another person will be hired to manage the recordings and tools needed.
Commissioner Arlette Preston wondered when the cameras would be turned on by officers.
Zibolski said in seeking proposals or bids, they required an "automatic trigger" system that would turn on the cameras in stressful situations, such as when an officer draws a handgun or taser or turns on the lights or sirens on a patrol car. Officers would also have to turn on their body cameras when dispatched to an incident.
The hardware is expected to arrive within about 30 days, with training for officers scheduled July 5 through Aug. 2. Training on the new tasers is also part of the Axon package.
Policies for use of the cameras are expected to be updated and completed in the next two months.
The purchase also includes cloud storage of the massive amount of video and body camera training goggles that offer a virtual reality setting that Zibolski said is about "as close to real life as possible."
Other departments with body cameras in the metro area include the Cass County Sheriff's Department, Clay County Sheriff's Department and Dilworth Police Department.
Moorhead police are planning to purchase cameras in the future, but are waiting to see if they can get a grant or assistance to speed up any purchase.
West Fargo police leaders have said they don't have plans to purchase body cameras and feel comfortable with their in-car units.