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Indianapolis body camera plan may shrink after funding fails

September 28, 2015

The Indianapolis police department is downsizing plans to equip all 900 patrol officers with body cameras after the city failed to win federal grants to buy the wearable devices.

Mayor Greg Ballard's 2016 budget proposal relied heavily on federal grants for the cameras, but the city wasn't awarded any funding for that purpose when the Department of Justice announced $23.2 million last week for 73 agencies. Indianapolis was among more than 200 police agencies that applied for but did not receive grants for the cameras that officers wear on their uniforms to record interactions with citizens.

"We were hopeful that we would get one of the grants, but I think our expectations, because there were so few awards, was that we would not," Deputy Public Safety Director Bryan Roach told The Indianapolis Star.

Roach said the department would propose a downsized body camera program and that it hopes to purchase cameras using $250,000 requested from the City-County Council for next year's budget.

Starting a city body camera program would cost an estimated $2 million over three to five years.

Black leaders urged the city to equip officers with body cameras last month after the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old carjacking suspect. Authorities say that confrontation wasn't captured by any department cameras. Body cameras are touted as a way to reduce the use of force and clear up questions about disputed encounters.

The City-County Council's public safety committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday, and the full council will vote on the 2016 budget in the coming weeks. It's unclear how many officers would receive cameras if the $250,000 funding request is approved.

Roach said that would depend in part on the cost of storing footage. Experts told a legislative committee hearing last month that storage costs for a department as large as Indianapolis could reach $10,000 per month.

The cameras cost $800 to $1,200 per unit.

Roach said the department should have a body camera plan in place by year's end, and some officers could start wearing cameras in 2016.

The study committee is scheduled to meet again Tuesday to discuss the question of public access to body camera video and restrictions on the release of that footage.

Councilman William Oliver, a Democrat on the city's public safety committee, said Indiana needs guidelines on releasing police body cam video.

"We need a code or law that says, 'This is what you shall do, and this is how you should do it,'" he said.

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