SCHENECTADY — City police in Schenectady will soon be equipped with new body-worn cameras and other technology designed to bolster public safety and transparency after lawmakers on Monday approved a 10-year contract worth more than $4.8 million to purchase the equipment.
The spending will be divided into three parts, with $3.7 million going towards a package that includes new body cameras, Tasers, virtual-reality training and software as part of a five-year contract with Axon Enterprise, Inc., a tech company specializing in police equipment. The contract includes an automatic five-year renewal.
In addition, the department will be purchasing new dash cameras and license plate readers from Axon at a cost of $898,339, as well as upgraded cameras for its interview rooms from the company at a cost of $207,643. The interview cameras will be paid for using a grant from the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office.
The remaining equipment will be paid off in yearly installments over the length of the contract, according to Police Chief Eric Clifford, who noted the dash cameras will cost $89,000 annually, while the body-worn camera contract will cost $378,000 a year.
He noted the dash cameras are expected to be budget neutral, while the cost of the body cameras will be covered through a series of grants for the first three years, after which the cost will be included as part of the department’s annual budget. The department is also in the process of applying for additional grants to help offset the costs.
The multi-year contract comes with a 20% savings, the equivalent of $1.4 million over a 10-year period.
Lawmakers approved the spending in a 7-0 vote.
“This was a huge step in promoting safer policing practices for our officers and the community at large that they’re charged with protecting,” said Councilman Carl Williams, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee.
Clifford, in an interview last week, said he hopes the dash cameras will be installed in the coming weeks and expects the body-worn cameras to be rolled out closer to the new year, which he attributed to the need for training and configuration of software that comes with the equipment.
“We believe we can get the in-car videos within eight weeks and the body-worn cameras, we’re looking at more towards the first of the year,” he said.
Officers with the Schenectady Police Department have been equipped with body-worn cameras since 2019.
But the Panasonic cameras have since fallen out of warranty and are reaching the end of their life expectancy, Clifford said.
He noted that the department made the decision to switch to Axon after an extensive review process of the equipment that included conversations with police agencies across the country and region that already use the cameras, including departments in Saratoga Springs and Albany.
The Axon cameras include a litany of technology that Clifford said will bolster officer and public safety and help to increase transparency, including automatic activation when an officer draws their firearm or activates their Taser.
Cameras will also turn on automatically whenever an officer is in close proximity to another officer who has their camera turned on, and allows administrators to tap into a livestream of each camera to monitor events as they unfold.
The contract also includes cloud storage and automatic transcription and redaction technology, which Clifford said will allow the department to blur the faces of bystanders and others captured on the camera, a necessary step before making any footage available for public view.
Clifford said he expects the department will change its policy around releasing footage as the new technology is incorporated. The department currently does not do so in most cases because the redaction process takes hours and the department lacks the manpower.
“Once we get it up and running, I can see us being able to share videos a lot easier,” Clifford said. “Right now our biggest reason for not sharing videos is it’s resource dependent. The ability to auto-redact and even transcribe is going to make it a lot easier for us to attach those videos.”
The package also includes a virtual reality training, which Clifford said will be made available to the public at community events so residents have a better understanding of what goes into officer training and why police react the way they do in situations.
“We can bring the virtual reality headset out to community events and give the public a first-hand view of some of the training scenarios that we go through, so they have a better appreciation of some of the difficulties of handling tense situations,” Clifford said.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.