Lebanon Police Chief Mike Justice says his department is looking to replace its officers’ body cameras after multiple instances of lost footage and audio.

Initial costs are estimated at $213,000 with a three-year warranty or $163,000 with a one-year warranty, along with potential costs up to $15,000 in server upgrades. The PD could contribute up to $60,000 toward the purchase from its drug fund.

“We’re experiencing some serious difficulties in failures of our body cams,” he said during the Lebanon City Council’s work session on Thursday. “We have had a couple of instances lately that we went to review some camera footage and we either lost sound, or lost picture or lost 100%.”

Justice said he has been in talks with Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash for about three months regarding the purchase. The city would need to amend its status quo budget adopted in June to include any new cameras.

“The current camera situation we have now, the officer has to actually activate the camera himself,” he said. “That’s something they have to remember to do every time, they have any kind of an encounter … that can be kind of tricky in a situation where something happens instantaneously. They may not have the time to activate that camera until they’re well into the incident.”

Repair costs for the existing equipment is estimated at $400 per unit. Justice said those cameras have a cable connecting the body and head that could need routine maintenance, as opposed to a camera card.

“I think given everything that’s going on in the world right now, we need to have reliable body cameras for both the public and the police officers,” Ward 6 Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman said. “There’s no guarantee that this Band-Aid approach would work. I think that we might end up still spending this money down the road, so I would suggest that we consider this.”

Finance Commissioner Stuart Lawson said he would explore possible federal funding opportunities that could help with the cost, and recommended buying new cameras with a three-year warranty.

“I would just go ahead and spend the money out of the general fund, especially since it’s a one time cost,” he said. “If they’re having these problems, they’re not going to go away.”

Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash and Ward 4 Councilor Chris Crowell also voiced support for the new cameras, citing protection and accountability.

Justice said it remains unclear when officers would receive any new cameras because of high demand, and the Lebanon City Council has not yet added the item to a meeting agenda.

“We feel like we’re wanting to do this pretty quick,” Justice said. “We’ve tried to do as much homework as we could as far as people around us that have this camera we have now, who they’re going to … we just feel like it’s really a needed expenditure because of that fact that we don’t want to lose one incident that we don’t have footage of, in the effort to keep our transparency, our trust and accountability.”

The council also discussed the recent bids for the 2020 Annual Street Paving Project, which would include roadways Engineering Director Regina Santana said have not been paved in 30 years or more.

“We just take a look at them and see which ones are in the worst shape,” she said, noting that there is no set schedule for the paving projects. “We look at the average daily traffic (ADT) … and may pave them more often. Like Leeville Pike, for instance, and South Hartmann Drive are some of our major corridors through town.”

Blue Water Industries submitted the lowest bid at $756,675, and the city would move $790,000 from its fund balance into improvements if accepted.

The city will hold a first reading vote on the project bids at its next electronic meeting, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday following a public hearing at 5:55 p.m.

Members of the public wishing to observe the meeting or provide comments are asked to contact MIS Director Mike Collinsworth at mcollinsworth@lebanontn.org or 615-443-2839 ext. 2401 by 5 p.m. on Monday.

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