Ann Arbor is allowed to spend $373,000 to equip police officers of the Ann Arbor Police Department with new body cameras after City Council approved a contract in the middle of September.
The new cameras will replace the city’s previous five-year-old body cameras that had been malfunctioning at high rates over the past year. They will be built by Axon Enterprise, Inc. and include spare replacement cameras and a new evidence-management system.
Ann Arbor first decided to equip its city police with body cameras in 2014 after the fatal shooting of 40-year-old Aura Rosser by an Ann Arbor police officer. The incident occurred after she confronted a police officer, David Ried, who had been dispatched to her home following a 911 call from her ex-boyfriend. The officer killed Rosser after she threatened him with a knife. No charges were ever filed against the police officer who shot her.
City Councilmember Kathy Griswold, Ward 2, said the contract was essential given the deteriorating quality of the existing city body cameras.
“It was absolutely critical because the body cameras that the police were using were first generation body cameras,” Griswold said. “The way they clipped on, they could fall easily, there were many issues transferring the data and the video wasn’t very good.”
Griswold also mentioned the availability of civilian cell phone cameras as another reason for why the police department needed body cameras with equal video quality.
“Nowadays people have cell phones with good video capability, and we want our police officers to have equal video capability,” Griswold said. “If we have a police officer that does not have a functioning video camera and members of the community who do and then have the ability to edit it, then that could be a real problem.”
Griswold also talked about how this was an issue that was relatively easy for city council to agree on because of its relevance to public safety.
“I think that issues of public safety are quite easy for council to come together on because we all care about the safety of our constituents,” Griswold said.
Fellow City Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, Ward 5, also agreed on the necessity for new video cameras.
“[This was] somewhat of a no-brainer — the cameras that the police officers have been wearing are nearing their life expectancy, so we had to buy new cameras for the police officers to wear,” Ramlawi said.
Ramlawi also referenced the importance for the police department to have a full copy of any incident that involves its police officers given the risk of such incidents being otherwise misrepresented.
“I think it’s a measurable step for the police officers to take to capture what is happening,” Ramlawi said. “Sometimes the police officers are accused of misconduct and the camera shows otherwise, and sometimes the opposite is true.”
LSA junior and Prison Creative Arts Project member, Isabel Boyer, similarly felt it was important for police to be equipped with body cameras to ensure their actions fall in line with proper protocol.
“I think that body cameras are definitely essential … just so that police are transparent with what they’re doing and what their procedure is when they make an arrest,” Boyer said. “Knowing they have a body camera on will alter some people’s actions or encourage people to stay in line with official procedure.”
Boyer, who spent time over the summer in court monitoring asylum cases, also noted how officials tend to behave differently when they are being supervised.
“I think that public officials definitely act differently when they know that there is a possibility that they’re being watched, which sounds a bit severe, but really it’s important that every part of the government is open with what they’re doing,” Boyer said.