Cortland looks to purchase body cams for police department

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The City of Cortland is looking to purchase body-worn cameras for its police department through a competitive grant program provided by the Bureau Justice of Assistance. 

If the city is awarded the grant, it covers the total price of the body cams, software, cloud-based storage and more – which is $141,000 altogether. Cortland mayor Scott Steve noted that the city would then pay $17,000-per-year for maintenance of the software, licensing and other services.

Steve, who noted the policy on the body cams has already been written, expects to hear back about the grant by mid-June. The city paid $1,250 to WCP Consultants, who recently submitted the application, to fill out the grant, he added.

“It’s pretty cheap in the end. I’m sure we’ll get (the grant) because we’re one of maybe two cities in the state that don’t have it,” Steve said.

Cortland police chief Paul Sandy said the reason that city police do not have body cams is due to the package being “cost-prohibitive.”

“It’s why we don’t have them,” he added. “They’re very expensive. “There was never any grant funding before. Now there is.”

Sandy is looking to purchase 20 body cams, which officers within the department will share with each other. City police would purchase the body cams from WatchGuard, the same company that city police bought its vehicle digital recorders from.

Sandy noted the vast difference between police vehicle digital recorders and body cams. The digital recorders are only active during an arrest, a traffic stop or other incidents. The body cams, however, are on at all times when police officers are “interacting with the public,” he said.

Pulling off data from digital recorders can be “labor-intensive,” Sandy said. He added that more so can be said about body cam recordings.

“That’s a lot of footage,” he added. Sandy noted with body cams, freedom of information requests have to be taken into account.

“Someone has to research it, pull the data and download it,” he said, who noted the “same goes” for criminal cases, prosecution and other court-related situations.

This has led to Steve engaging in preliminary discussions with Cortland County about sharing staff to “be able to review recordings and get information (when needed),” he said.

“This would allow us to work collaboratively (with the county) to share manpower for some of the management part of it,” Sandy said.

If all goes well, Sandy mentioned that purchasing body cams “depends on when the city gets the money.”

“There are a lot of aspects when it comes to money, but we’re going to give it a shot,” he said. “It’s a valuable tool and a very competitive process. That’s why we (had) a professional grant writer (fill out the application).”

Steve noted that the city’s attempt to purchase body cams “should’ve been done a long time ago.”

“We’re way behind on all of this,” he said. “It’s not just important, it’s imperative. There are so many good things that can come out of it. It’s beneficial to everybody.”