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February 12, 2013

Police may get new cameras for patrol cars after all

TRAVERSE CITY — City police may get new cameras for patrol cars, as well as an additional officer.

Patrol car video cameras, initially estimated at $40,000, may only cost $20,000. That helped swing Mayor Michael Estes from his opposition, and three other commissioners voiced support.

“I’m very much in favor; they are an excellent way of preserving what happened,” said Commissioner Barbara Budros, an attorney who has seen in-car video work to both convict and clear criminal defendants.

City police want to replace their old cameras, most of which no longer work, in favor of new technology. Chief Mike Warren called them an excellent tool.

Commissioners also noted they act as a check on police.

“There’s been some buddy-buddy behavior that has occurred in the past, and if it’s on tape, it won’t happen,” said Commissioner Jeanine Easterday.

Easterday cited an incident from 2010, when two sheriff’s deputies didn’t arrest Joseph Soffredine, a city police officer who drove his car off the road after a night of drinking. He later pleaded guilty to impaired driving and the deputies pleaded guilty to other crimes.

The Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department does not have car video cameras.

The board took no vote during its study session this week, but the discussion gave direction to what they want City Manager Ben Bifoss to include in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Guidance was even clearer on hiring a new officer, which one commissioner called a “no-brainer.”

The new officer would be assigned as a school liaison officer and mostly paid for by the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District. TBAISD would cover all costs including equipment for the officer for 10 months. The city would cover the cost for July and August.

“We’ll have an officer for the two months we have the most need and won’t have to pay for him the other 10 months when we may not need one,” Budros said.

The officer would be assigned to cover all school operations of TBAISD in Traverse City, but the main focus would be at the campus that houses both the Career Tech Center and Adult Center, said Mike Hill, TBAISD superintendent.

Members of the public use the center, as do students.

“At any one time we have 1,400 to 1,500 lives within that building,” Hill said. “Student safety, staff safety, is a priority for us and we’ve been looking at this for some time. The tragedy in Connecticut has heightened that concern.”

The TBAISD board discussed hiring the officer and the cost at its last meeting but won’t vote on it until March 5, Hill said. The board decided against asking Traverse City to supply the officer without cost.

“For us to ask the citizens of Traverse City to financially support a police officer to protect students from seven counties seems unreasonable,” Hill said.

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