St. Louis police officers will soon be outfitted with body cameras

Every officer in St. Louis could be a few months away from wearing body cameras after a contentious board meeting Wednesday saw unanimous approval to implement a free, one year trial of the devices.

Members of the St. Louis Board of Estimate and Apportionment were, at times, shouting at crowd members who demanded the board approve the cameras, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

In April, Taser International changed its name to Axon and offered a free, one year body camera trial to every police officer in America. The city of St. Louis is taking them up on that offer while it works on a long term plan to deploy the cameras.

According to a trial agreement with Axon, the city will get as many as 1,300 cameras, the associated equipment, and all the necessary software and data storage the department will need for one year. After that, the city can return all of the equipment, or pay $1,000 a camera and keep using them. That comes out to $1.3 million a year.

Union leaders in the city have historically been opposed to body camera use. St. Louis Police Officers Association business manager Jeff Roorda said the union wanted “to make sure our officers’ due process rights are protected.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed pointed out that 75 percent of major police departments are using body cameras. He said it was critical that the board vote to approve the cameras. “Body cameras tell you exactly what happened,” he said.

Mayor Lyda Krewson and Comptroller Darlene Green complained Wednesday that sections of the contracts they’d received were blank. As they voiced their concerns about that and other issues, members of the public shouted them down. Friends and family of people killed by police, as well as pastors and activists were on hand, and had no patience for another stalled vote.

“Take care of it now. Now!” yelled one man.

“Vote yes and show us you care,” someone else shouted.

Eventually, they agreed to approve the one year trial and to gather bids for a long-term body camera plan that they’d finalize by year’s end. The crowd cheered after the yes vote.

Reed acknowledged that the proposal probably wouldn’t have passed if not for the crowd. He said a loss would have meant more turmoil for a city that’s faced nearly a week of protests following the acquittal of a white police officer who shot and killed a black man in 2011.

The one year trial will likely take effect without police union approval. The union’s business manager, Jeff Roorda, said those advocating for the cameras were using recent protests “as cover to advance an agenda.” But he said the union will bargain in good faith on the matter.