LEWISTON — The City Council on Tuesday approved money to secure body cameras for police personnel.

The decision came roughly two months earlier than the city’s initial timeline for acquiring them, which became a source of contention between elected officials and Lewiston’s police patrol union.

The money, considered a supplemental appropriation by the council, was approved unanimously Tuesday, a move that officials said supports both the safety and accountability of law enforcement and addresses calls for greater police oversight.

During a workshop session last week, officials received the proposal to purchase 80 body cameras as well as 15 cruiser cameras from BodyWorn by Utility, which had already been supported by the police department and union.

Lewiston police personnel have said that the functionality of the system — a camera that rests centered inside an officer’s uniform — and its data storage abilities, make it “light-years ahead of the competitors.”

The city will enter into a five-year, $596,000 contract with the company, and the funding approved Tuesday, at $119,225, will cover the contract’s first year.

According to a City Council memo, $82,000 will come from surplus police grant funds; $26,900 will come from surplus from the recent renovation project at 85 Park St. and $10,325 will come from the drug forfeiture funds.

City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil said the Finance Committee, which is charged with awarding bids on city purchases, approved a “waiver of competition” that clears the way for the vendor selection of BodyWorn.

City officials have been in discussions with the Police Department over body cameras since June, when the police patrol union issued a letter demanding funding for outfitting all sworn personnel. The letter came in reaction to an earlier council resolution — drafted amid national outrage over the police killing of George Floyd — that condemned racial profiling and excessive force by police in the city.

Councilor Lee Clement, a former law enforcement officer, said the project shows support for the safety of law enforcement and the broader community, and brings the city “a system that’s way ahead in technical terms” and “ahead of schedule.”

Councilor Alicia Rea said being able to find the necessary funding so quickly “shows what a priority it is for this council and for this community.”

While outfitting police with body cameras is seen as a significant step, others have continued to press the city and its Police Department to find more proactive ways to address citizen concerns.

Lewiston resident Dane Morgan, who serves on the city’s Equity and Diversity Committee established in July, called into the council’s initial discussion on body cameras that same month. He said he supported body cameras as a way to increase police 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.”

In August, the police patrol union issued a statement pressuring the city to speed up its proposed timeline for issuing body cameras, and said it no longer supported the Equity and Diversity Committee.

Officials on Tuesday also voted to appropriate funds for a project that would replace the parking management systems in all five of the city’s parking garages.

Deputy City Administrator Dale Doughty said the current systems are 10 years old, and can not be made reliable without significant investment.

Mayor Mark Cayer applauded both spending plans as necessary despite coming outside the normal budget process.

“It’s a good reminder for us to give things a hard look when we’re spending outside of the budget cycle and vetting process, but I think (the projects) hit that threshold of importance,” he said.


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