LEWISTON — The Lewiston City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night that committed the city to a timeline for buying body cameras for police officers.

The resolution was drafted following a meeting between Mayor Mark Cayer and the police patrol union last week, after a union letter criticized the council’s recent resolution condemning racial profiling and excessive force by police.

The patrol union’s letter called on the city to buy body cameras for all police personnel, and urged elected officials to attend training and ride-alongs to learn more about the department.

During the council’s discussion Tuesday, officials said they agreed with the plan to acquire body cameras for police, although Councilor Lee Clement cautioned the council on the potential costs associated with outfitting roughly 70 members of the department with cameras.

“It’s not going to happen at the snap of the fingers,” he said.

Councilor Alicia Rea said while she supported the proposal, its language felt like a commitment to buying the equipment, rather than exploring options.

City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil said he would work with police Chief Brian O’Malley and a committee representing police personnel to review options and bids for the equipment.

Councilors also largely supported the parts of the resolution that urge elected officials to schedule ride-alongs and attend police training.

“I know it’s a tough job, and I want to support the law enforcement community,” Councilor Luke Jensen said. “There’s a lot of work left, but we’re moving in a positive direction.”

Lewiston resident Dane Morgan, who called into the Zoom meeting, said he supported police body cameras as a way to increase accountability, but he argued it is still a “reactionary method” that has been available for several years.

“We want to be able to get ahead of the issue, not behind it,” he said. “It’s missing the fact that our people want to feel like the community and its public servants are all on one accord.”

Councilor Safiya Khalid, who introduced the original council resolution on policing, said she would like to see more conversational events — like “Coffee with a Cop” — that could improve communication with the community.

“I want to recognize our police officers continuing to protect and serve our community,” she said. “I’m proud of the work they continue to do. We need to build communication and understanding and I think that’s something we’re missing.”

Councilor Clement, a former police officer and the only councilor to oppose last month’s council resolution, proposed an amendment to the resolution that applauded the Lewiston Police Department’s accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

“My hope by adding this, is it will further show our support for our Police Department,” he said. “They are facing some difficult times recently. I’m not saying there’s not room for improvement, but I think it recognizes the degree of professionalism in the department.”

Lewiston is one of five agencies in the state to achieve the accreditation.

The resolution directs city administration to develop “a plan for the purchase and policies governing the use of body cameras for all sworn department personnel” to be presented to the City Council no later than Dec. 31.

At the same time, the resolution states, city administration will work with O’Malley and others within the Police Department to “evaluate the training currently provided to department personnel and to develop recommendations for additional training that would be of benefit in meeting their responsibilities and furthering their professional development.”

SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS

Also on Tuesday, the City Council took up an unscheduled discussion on a School Committee proposal that would reduce the number of school resource officers in Lewiston from four to three and end its DARE program.

Councilor Clement introduced the discussion in order to send a resolution or official statement to the School Committee regarding the council’s position on the proposal.

However, several councilors as well as members of the public expressed concern with the council taking an official stance nearly a week before the School Committee is scheduled to hold its vote July 13.

Most councilors said they had received a tremendous amount of public feedback since the proposal was announced. A majority of councilors said they did not support the School Committee proposal, and did not support sending an official council stance on the issue.

Former School Committee member Linda Scott, who called into the meeting, said she had been inundated with calls on the issue over the past three days, even though she no longer serves on the board.

“It’s a very slippery slope if you decide to vote on your feelings prior to the School Committee,” she told the council. “It’s unfair to the elected officials on the School Committee.”

“This is not a financial decision. This is a programming decision,” said Councilor Jensen, a former School Committee member. “If you want to have an impact on programming in schools, then run for School Committee.”

Jensen said he did not support the School Committee resolution, and said he plans to email his thoughts to committee members.

Councilor Zack Pettengill said he had heard from about 140 people on the issue already, with the “overwhelming majority” in support of school resource officers.

The motion by School Committee member Kiernan Majerus-Collins calls for reducing the number of school resource officers from four to three, prohibiting the permanent presence of police at any elementary school and ending the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program by the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Money budgeted for the fourth officer would be used to hire a restorative justice coordinator at Lewiston High School.

Following the proposal, Mayor Mark Cayer and Police Chief Brian O’Malley issued separate statements in support of the school resource officer program.

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