Little Rock police officers will wear body cameras while on duty as early as mid-August, a move that is more than five years in the making and comes at a time when accountability in law enforcement is at the forefront of a national debate.
The city Board of Directors approved during Tuesday's meeting the purchase of 275 body-worn cameras, enough to cover all officers on a shift. The total cost will be about $760,000, which will be partially offset by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The department has approximately 600 officers, and officers will rotate using the cameras as they change shifts.
Police Chief Keith Humphrey said Tuesday that the department anticipates a roughly seven-week turnaround, which would put cameras on officers by the middle or end of August.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. lauded the approval at Tuesday's meeting.
"It's the right thing to do, and it's essential to 21st-century community policing," he said.
Twenty-five of the cameras were provided for free by the vendor, WatchGuard Video Inc., said Dean Kumpuris, city director at-large.
The contract for the purchase was initially set to go before the Board of Directors in mid-May, but Kumpuris said he asked for it to be tabled until the city knew more about the effect the coronavirus pandemic would have on its finances.
Even though the city is still in the dark about the public-health crisis' impact on revenue, Kumpuris said recent events drove home the importance of the purchase.
The death of George Floyd, a black man who died May 25 while being held in custody by Minneapolis police, has sparked protests in Arkansas and across the world against police brutality, as well as a national conversation about policing and racial inequity.
Floyd died after officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground and knelt on the side of Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Videos of the encounter captured by bystanders have been circulated widely.
Chauvin was fired and faces a second-degree murder charge related to Floyd's death. Three other Minneapolis police officers -- Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane -- also were fired and face charges of aiding and abetting murder.
"All of the trauma that the city and the nation have been experiencing, this is one way that we can go ahead and do something that we've already talked about doing," Kumpuris said. "It is the right thing to do given the situation we're in now."
Kumpuris added that the deal that would allow the city to acquire an additional 25 cameras free of charge is an offer that expires at the end of the month.
Funding for the cameras that isn't covered by the federal grant will come from a special-project fund allocated in the city's 2020 budget. According to the resolution, the grant will pay $194,000 and the city will cover about $566,000 of the cost.
WatchGuard Video is the same vendor that provides dashboard cameras for the city's police vehicles. The city bid out the purchase and received four proposals, and a committee evaluated cameras from two vendors before making a selection.
The committee that narrowed down the number of vendors included Lt. Jordan Neufer; Lt. Christina Plummer; Little Rock information-technology director Randy Foshee; Kendra Pruitt, senior adviser to the mayor; and Debbie Carreiro, Abdoul Kabaou and Derrick Rainey from the city's Finance Department, the Police Department said in May.
The cameras are manually activated by the officer, according to an email last month from Neufer, who manages technology and equipment for the department. He said additional "triggers" will be configured, which will mirror activation triggers of the in-car cameras.
The Little Rock department has been trying to procure body cameras for more than five years but funding has been an obstacle.
Humphrey told a group of protesters outside City Hall last week that the department's body-camera policy will prevent officers from turning their cameras off.
"You're looking at a chief that came from a department that developed a body-camera program, so this is nothing new to me," Humphrey said, referring to his past leading the Police Department in Norman, Okla.
The camera policy, provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by the department in May, states that lieutenants shall review at least two body-worn camera files on a monthly basis and submit their review to the division commander to assess officer performance and ensure that they are fully and properly utilizing the technology.
Tampering with, disabling, or shielding the cameras is cause for disciplinary action, according to the policy. Officers are not to edit, erase, delete or alter digital recordings.
The policy states that officers must manually activate their cameras when responding to a call or before interacting with a civilian.
The Little Rock department follows several other Arkansas agencies in acquiring body-worn cameras. The Pulaski County sheriff's office announced in October that it would spend $1.2 million on body cameras and cameras inside patrol and detention center transport vehicles. Conway police began implementation of a camera program in April 2019.
Jonesboro police began wearing body cameras soon after the northeast Arkansas city received a U.S. Department of Justice grant in 2014.
In neighboring Tennessee, Nashville will roll out body cameras and in-car cameras for much of its police force in July, according to The Associated Press.