UPDATED: City council votes to accept body-worn camera funding for Salem police

This story was updated following the city council vote Monday night.

Salem police could be wearing body cameras as soon as next year.

The Salem City Council voted unanimously Monday night on accepting a grant from the state legislature to fund a body-worn camera program for police to the tune of $816,000.

If approved, the department may start a bid for vendors to provide the cameras and hopes officers will have them on hand in the first half of 2022, said Lt. Treven Upkes, a spokesperson for Salem police, prior to the council vote Monday.

“It might be an aggressive timeline, but we want them as soon as possible,” Upkes said. “We just know that these things don’t always go super smooth.”

The department may also choose a vendor already under contract with the state, he said, which could speed up the timeline.

He said the department has drafted policies for using body-worn cameras but won’t finalize and release them to the public until it chooses a vendor and seeks input from the Salem Police Employees Union and Marion County District Attorney’s Office.

Officers won’t turn cameras on in some circumstances, such as calls involving minors, but they would use them to record most responses to calls and contacts with the public.

“Some people are going to feel that it adds another layer of accountability and transparency,” Upkes said of the program. “I think that people are also going to be able to see the type of work that we’re doing on a day in and day out basis, and the things that our officers are doing very well. So, I think that’ll increase how people feel about the job that we’re doing for them.”

Upkes said the department hopes the grant will provide enough funding to equip all 190 Salem officers with body-worn cameras. If not, he said their goal will be to provide cameras for all officers in an “enforcement position” rather than those who do administrative work.

After previous efforts to start the program stalled due to hefty costs, the Salem Budget Committee recommended that a body-worn camera and dash camera program be included in the budget.

The city council voted on June 28 to allocate the funding to cover the first year of implementing the program which includes equipment, data storage and four non-sworn employees to manage archiving the footage – with costs expected to drop to $630,000 annually after the first year.

The city has an $853,740 budget for the program, most of it covered by state funds if approved and the remaining $37,740 covered by the city.

Salem got quotes from five providers of body-worn cameras and in-car video systems in August based on outfitting 190 officers and 50 patrol cars. The average upfront cost for four providers was $455,000, with an additional $180,000 annually for ongoing maintenance.

Then, Upkes said the department would spend around half million on purchasing the equipment for all of its officers, and the rest would pay for data storage and the salary and benefits of the four additional employees, a plan he said still stands.

“It’s all an estimate, really. We’ve seen what other agencies similar size, what they had to pay for similar packages. So, we assume that it will cost about that much,” he said.

He said the department will need to hire a manager, likely in IT, to implement the new program, as well as two evidence technicians and an employee to pull video requests and redact sensitive information for those requested by lawyers or the public. The department won’t have openings for those positions until the council approves the grant funding.

The department won’t know how much data storage will cost or where the footage will be stored until after the department chooses a vendor.

Under state law, Upkes said the department is required to keep recordings that have no evidentiary value for a minimum of 180 days or up to 30 months. Recordings used for evidence will remain through adjudication until the district attorney’s office says it is no longer needed.

He said the department would likely keep recordings for a certain number of years before erasing them. “I think keeping data like that, high resolution video, for infinity would cost way too much for anybody, and there’s not enough cloud storage for that.”

The Salem Police Department has a $50 million budget for the next fiscal year. 

“We’ve been wanting it for a long time,” Upkes said of the body-worn camera program. “But it’s just a typical reality of how do you find basically an extra $1 million in a very tight budget and fiscal constraints.”


Body cameras for police included in upcoming city budget

Salem police union calls for body cameras, but hefty price tag has stalled efforts in the past

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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