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Proposed Budget Includes Money for Police Body Cameras

January 12, 2017

BENNINGTON - Police officers would receive new body and cruiser cameras under a proposed budget for the coming year.

The fiscal 2018 budget includes $22,470, the first of five annual lease payments for a new integrated system. The department would purchase 25 in-car and body cameras that would capture both video and sound, according to Chief Paul Doucette. He described it as an insurance policy. Addressing the cost, he said "it's nothing what a potential lawsuit could cost."

"We need it to protect our officers," Doucette told Select Board members last weekend.

The Select Board held a budget work session at the fire facility on Saturday to discuss the police, fire and highway department budgets. No votes or decisions were made. Members will meet again on Saturday. They still need to approve the proposed $12.56 million budget before it goes to voters at Town Meeting in March.

Doucette said purchasing the system outright would cost about $96,000. With a five-year lease and annual payment of $22,470, the cost would be $101,115. Including $96,000 would've been "a substantial hit," Town Manager Stuart Hurd said. And Doucette said of the 25 units purchased several years ago, only five still work.

The cameras would record audio and video while an officer is on duty. The data would download onto a server at the police station when an officer returns from a call.

Doucette noted talk at the state level that body cameras could soon be mandatory for Vermont police departments. The camera system could be considered by insurance underwriters and possibly reduce those related costs, Hurd said.

The proposed police budget of $3.65 million is up 5.99 percent over the current year. The largest increase is workman compensation, which rose 63.25 percent to $98,050.

Doucette stressed the department has measures in place to prevent injuries, but said officers have been injured on duty. Many of those injuries happen during apprehensions with people who have a mental illness, he said.

"We're challenging law enforcement to do a lot more in the community than we ever have before," he said.

The Select Board will meet again Saturday at 8 a.m to review the Bennington Free Library, the Better Bennington Corporation (BBC) budget and work plan, and a funding request from the Bennington Rescue Squad. The nonprofit ambulance company is petitioning to request $207,500 at Town Meeting.

Members are also slated to enter executive session to set salaries for the town manager, town clerk and treasurer. The board could come out of executive session to vote on the budget, or, could wait until the next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 23.

Edward Damon
Compliments of: The Bennington Banner