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West Fargo Police look at using officer body cameras

West Fargo follows in the footsteps of other metro departments

generic police body cam photo
West Fargo police may begin using body cameras like the one seen in this image starting this summer.
File photo / The Forum
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WEST FARGO — West Fargo Police officers may soon be wearing body cameras as part of their blue uniform.

On Monday, May 16, Police Chief Denis Otterness said his department will apply for a federal grant that could offset the cost of providing body cameras to officers. He said a strong majority of West Fargo police officers are in favor of joining the program.

"An overwhelming majority of the officers, our sworn staff, support the body worn camera program," Otterness said.

Otterness said a body camera program helps build trust and transparency within the department and community.

Otterness estimated that the first year of the program would cost about $221,000, which includes the initial purchase of the cameras, hiring of staff, additional training and other related equipment and installation costs. Following the first year, Otterness estimated the cost of the program would be about $125,000 to $129,000 over the following four years.

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The grant, which would be funded through the Bureau of Justice Assistance, could offer up to $160,000, Finance Director Jim Larson said.

The cameras and related equipment are estimated to cost about $98,000. Along with the equipment, Otterness is asking to hire a records specialist for the department that would handle the camera footage including storage and transfers of footage when needed. The staff member would also provide video to prosecutors or the public as needed, as body camera footage is considered public information and must be made available when requested.

"They would redact what needs to be redacted by law," Otterness said.

The position would pay about $70,000 per year for salary and benefits.

Commissioner Mandy George asked if the request means there could be a mill increase in the police budget in 2023 to help pay for it. The city will soon be working on its 2023 budget and it could be facing necessary mill increases after using about $1 million in reserve funds in 2022.

Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig said the city has seen an increase in valuations, which has increased its mill values, and that may help the city's upcoming budget costs.

The value of the city's mills rose from $198,000 to about $230,000 per mill, City Administrator Tina Fisk said.

The city is also considering asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax in November for public safety costs.

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Otterness said he may request hiring two additional full-time civilian staff members in 2023, along with three additional officers. The department is currently authorized to employ 69 sworn police officers, with three K9 units, 13 civilian employees and seven volunteers.

Otterness said he is considering a camera system that includes a trigger to automatically turn on the body camera if an officer draws a gun or Taser, similar to the system that is used by Fargo police. He said the department's squad cars have a similar trigger, if an officer turns on the vehicle's lights, the dash camera is automatically triggered to power on.

The City Commission unanimously granted Otterness authorization to apply for the federal grant, as the first step in potentially implementing the program.

READ MORE FROM WEST FARGO EDITOR WENDY REUER
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Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at wreuer@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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