St. Louis police to begin using body cameras by end of November

Officials said the public has wanted the cameras for years and they "cannot afford to wait any longer"


By Mark Schlinkmann
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis police expect to begin using body cameras by the end of November, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards told top city elected officials on Wednesday.

Edwards, in a briefing for the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, said the department has worked to implement the $5.78 million contract with Georgia-based Utility Associates Inc. after it was signed in June.

Photo/Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

"Neither the police department or its vendors, suppliers or technical support experts have been dilatory in the implementation of the body camera program," Edwards said. "In fact, quite the contrary."

[READ: How to buy body-worn cameras (eBook)]

Also at the teleconference meeting:

— The board approved a $740,000 contract with Behavioral Health Response, a local nonprofit, to begin working in December with city 911 dispatchers to divert some emergency calls to mental health and social work professionals. Some will accompany police in responding to relevant calls in parts of the city.

— Edwards said he has asked corrections officials to look beyond Missouri to find jails to house some of the city's pre-trial detainees to avoid overcrowding of the main St. Louis jail downtown after a closure of the St. Louis Medium Security Institution, also known as the workhouse.

But Edwards and Mayor Lyda Krewson didn't say whether they believed the city can meet an end-of-year timeline to shut down the workhouse sought in an ordinance passed by the Board of Aldermen.

Krewson, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green make up the estimate board, the city's chief fiscal body.

Regarding body cameras, Edwards said they aren't simply purchased "off the shelf" and handed off to the 800 officers who will use them.

He said they are part of a "very complex and sophisticated" computer system requiring technical adaptations to work with department equipment.

One element still being implemented, he said, will allow cameras to be automatically activated when an officer draws a gun or turns on a police car's emergency lights.

He said 654 officers and sergeants were trained between Sept. 7 and last week on the body cameras and on new cameras being installed in many patrol cars. Due to pandemic social distancing requirements, he said, only 20 people could take part in each session.

Training for commanders and detectives is underway this week, he said.

Reed, who asked for the briefing, said it showed "steady progress toward the final goal."

In a news release Tuesday announcing his request, Reed had said the public has wanted the cameras for years and "we cannot afford to wait any longer." At one point, Krewson's office had said some cameras could be issued as soon as July.

Workhouse update

The workhouse issue was raised Wednesday by Green. Krewson said she wouldn't support requiring some prisoners at the downtown jail to sleep on mattresses, which Corrections Commissioner Dale Glass has said could occur if the workhouse was shut down by the end of the year.

"We will have to find some other locations most likely for people," the mayor said.

Glass earlier this month had said in a survey of jails across Missouri he had found only 60 spaces potentially available for St. Louis detainees, both in rural areas. He said that isn't enough to accommodate the excess number expected in the city's downtown jail if the workhouse closes.

Reed, who sponsored the workhouse shutdown bill, suggested issuing a formal request for proposals to see what bids actually come in.

The aldermanic board approved the measure after several years of efforts by criminal justice activists who complained about substandard conditions at the 54-year-old workhouse on Hall Street and other issues. City officials say conditions have improved in recent years.

Mayoral spokesman Jacob Long said in an interview later that the mayor's administration is "working toward Dec. 31" as a workhouse shutdown date but didn't say whether that actually will happen.

Plan for 911 calls

The contract with Behavioral Health Response carries out the estimate board's decision last spring at Krewson's request to shift money to that purpose by reducing spending on the workhouse.

Long said initial plans call for mental health and social workers to accompany police on some calls in the 6th police district in north St. Louis and another district yet to be selected.

(c)2020 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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