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Bangor approves buying body-worn cameras for its police force

Wednesday night, the City of Bangor voted six to three to approve a plan to suit its officers with body cameras.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor will soon join the increasing number of cities that require police officers to wear a body camera while on duty.

Bangor police officials and the Bangor city council have been debating a body camera program for a year now. Bangor city councilors say they hope the move will build more trust between officers and the community, they voted Wednesday night not unanimously six to three to approve a plan to suit its officers with body cameras.

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The Bangor Police body camera program comes with a $225,000 annual expense.

The funds were approved to buy the equipment, storage of footage, and hire the personnel to put body cameras to use.

That's something already standard in the Portland Police Department. For about a year now, officers there regularly put on body cameras every day.

Chief Frank Clark says they provide a better perspective of the work and documentation of the officers in the field.

"We thought it was important to have that functionality to be able to provide that objective perspective both in terms of criminal investigations and prosecutions and to being able to look an objective piece of evidence to validate or refute any sorts of allegations against our officers," says Chief Clark.

Chief Clark mentions these cameras are not the solution to everything but provide a better sense of times and moments in the field.

"To be able to provide that objective perspective both in terms of criminal investigations and prosecutions and on the other hand on the terms of being transparent and having the ability to look at an objective piece of evidence," says Chief Clark.

Black Lives Matter protests on the Bangor streets in June is just one of the things that pushed city councilors to add the cameras for its officers.

"They are a vital tool especially in today's day and age where the police are heavily scrutinized more heavily this past summer than ever before," says Sgt. Wade Betters from the Bangor Police Department.

Bangor Police Department Public Information Officer Wade Betters tells NEWS CENTER Maine this will help people see crime-fighting and community control from a different angle. 

"We are kind of hoping some more of those videos get out and the general public becomes more aware just how difficult some situation and some people are to deal with," says Sgt. Betters.

Bangor City Councilor Ben Sprague voted in favor of the vote.

"Given the technology has improved a lot over time, I think now is the time, and I think people have an expectation that body cams are going to be part of the police officers' equipment in uniform at this point," says Sprague.

Sprague believes the cameras will help improve the relationship between citizens and police officers.

But not all councilors voted in favor. Dan Tremble, Rick Fournier, and Angela Okafor voted against, mostly thinking if there could be a better use of the elevated price tag of the body cameras. The contract with WatchGuard plus additional expenses of the city will cost approximately $225,000 a year. Bangor city council chair Clare Daviit says it's around $100,000 for the IT position and $125,000 for the equipment.

"The cost of the storage, and having to hire an IT person to handle it and oversee it, and you need replacements on the cameras, and that lease has to be renewed every few years. I just have a hard time with that kind of money when there is so much more we could be doing," says Tremble.

Tremble says he thinks funds could now be better used towards the opioid crisis in the city or hire people to help people battling addiction.  

Bangor PD already has in-car cameras, but the new body-cams will provide a closer look at what officers deal with on the streets.

"It is important to note that the cameras do not show everything though, they just show what's in front of the officer not everything that might be off to the peripheral vision," says Betters.