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Alexandria police to get body cams in December

This is a body camera made by Axon, the same company that developed Tasers. (Contributed)1 / 3
Police Chief Rick Wyffels 2 / 3
Sara Carlson3 / 3

Alexandria police officers are expected to start wearing body cameras starting in December. On Monday evening, the Alexandria City Council approved a deal for equipment and software.

The council unanimously agreed to a five-year contract with Arizona-based Axon Enterprise, Inc., formerly Taser International, to supply its 19 police officers and all squad cars with cameras and technology that would allow cameras to begin rolling the instant an officer draws a gun or Taser. Officers also have the capacity to turn them on without pulling a weapon.

"We've been working on this for a long time," Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels said in introducing the contract to the council.

For the first year of the contract, the city will pay Axon $44,478, a little less than the expected $45,000. For the second year, and each year after that, it will pay $37,836, slightly above the expected $35,000 cost.

Following the meeting, Mayor Sara Carlson, who oversees the police department, said she was pleased to make progress on the body cameras.

"It moves the city forward in protecting our officers and our citizens as well," she said.

For instance, it can provide protection and accountability when officers respond to people in mental health crises, she said.

"Situations like that come up fairly often," she said.

Her role with the city has opened her eyes to situations police officers face, "And that's why the body cameras were important to me," she said.

Wyffels said the city will not own the equipment or software. Instead, it will remain theirs to use for five years, and as part of the agreement, Axon will provide regular updates.

In response to a question from council member Todd Jensen, Wyffels said that Axon will store the data produced by the body cams but the city will own it, and if it chooses to switch companies after five years, the city will retain the data. Axon also serves the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, which began using body cameras earlier this year.

Wyffels told council member there's a comfort level in having a large company like Axon handle the data so that the city doesn't need to worry about viruses or lost server connections.

There could still be a glitch with the company, he pointed out, but "that malfunction would be on them and not on us."

The city will wait until December for the cameras because it will take the company that long to deliver.

While the contract doesn't spell out a liability insurance amount, Axon carries a $10 million liability insurance policy, said city attorney Tom Jacobson. He said he would have been happier if an amount had been spelled out in the policy, but would have also accepted a $1 million policy.

"They're a huge organization, so I'm not too terribly concerned about them leaving us high and dry," he told council members.

Council member Virgil Bateman asked whether the yearly fee includes the cost of installation into police cars. Wyffels said that would be handled separately through a private contractor, paid out of a police account designed to handle such expenses.

Council member Bob Kuhlman asked what would happen if equipment should be lost or stolen.

"It would be the city's loss," and covered by insurance, Jacobson replied.

In other matters

The city council set a public hearing for Monday, Oct. 22, to hear what the public thinks of spending up to $2.5 million on reconstructing city streets. It would issue general obligation street reconstruction bonds, the same process it used in 2015-2016, when it spent $1.8 million.

It also agreed to move forward with engineering work on two high-priority roads.

• Deerwood Drive is a busy, unpaved gravel road, dusty and expensive to maintain, according to the city's engineering agreement.

• Scenic Heights Road, the agreement said, is a busy road in "very poor" condition, narrow with no safe travel for pedestrians or bikes, yet it is also the main route for children who walk or bike to Voyager School.

The cost of the engineering work is $104,464.