SUBSCRIBE NOW

Dover City Council to consider funding body cams for police

Committees focus on police reform in July 28 meeting

Emily Lytle
Dover Post
File photo of Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson presenting a series of policy changes in a June 18 press conference. Johnson will continue to research body-worn camera programs after discussions with council members July 28.

Should Dover plan to fund body cameras for police, or wait for a universal program from the state? That was the big question at the Council Committee of the Whole meeting July 28.

Council members in the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee unanimously agreed that the city should have a plan to adopt a body-worn camera program in 2020. In the motion, council allowed Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson to work with the mayor to develop a plan, which he will present to council at a later date.

Councilman Roy Sudler clarified that this motion does not commit the city to funding the program. “The intention [is] to get the ball rolling to get some proposals we can review,” he said.

Body cam programs range in cost based on vendors and what services they provide, but Johnson said they seem to fall between $300,000 and $400,000. Most of the programs include roll-in options to pay over a few years.

“We are happy to receive a body-worn camera program in whatever way council sees most appropriate,” Johnson said early in the meeting, acknowledging that a larger state program may reduce the financial burden on the city.

During discussions, Mayor Robin Christiansen urged council members to support the motion. “It shows in good faith that the mayor and council and chief of police are committed to looking into having a plan in place just in case folks that made a promise in the middle of the storm don’t forget it in calm waters,” Christiansen said. 

The next Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 25. 

Federal money to grow community policing

Johnson presented a federal cost-share grant, called the COPS Grant Award, which would more than double the department’s community policing force by authorizing five more officers. 

The Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee decided to refer it to city council without a recommendation. The next city council meeting is Monday, Aug. 24.

Some council members worried that authorizing more officers would only bog down an already slow hiring process. Johnson said that it often takes between 11 and 17 months to hire an officer. The department is trying to fill eight vacancies now.

Councilman Tim Slavin said he was apprehensive about accepting federal money that suddenly disappears. Based on the chief’s presentation, the city is expected to pay 62.4% of the $1.66 million total estimated cost over a little more than three years. 

For the full presentation, view the meeting packet at cityofdover.com/meetings

Other news: Lodging tax

Council unanimously voted to collect lodging taxes as planned, but to remove penalties if the tax does not meet the Sept. 1 deadline. This comes after hotel operators contacted the city to request an extension.