City Hall

Phoenix Police Department Seeks 600 Percent Expansion of Body Camera Program

The Phoenix Police Department has requested that the city spend $5.7 million on 2,000 new body cameras, vastly expanding an accountability program that kicked off at the beginning of the decade.

In addition to buying the cameras, officials estimate that Phoenix would need to hire 21 new civilian positions to administer the program, at a cost of $2.4 million.

The department currently deploys 300 body cameras on patrol officers across the city. Those cameras would be deactivated if the new equipment is approved by the City Council. The proposal is not currently scheduled on a full council agenda, though the contract term with Axon, the body camera company, would go from January 15, 2019, to January 14, 2024.

The Public Safety and Veterans Subcommittee on Wednesday voted 3-1 to recommend that the full City Council approve the body camera proposal. Vice Mayor Jim Waring was the sole "no" vote.

Waring, a fiscal conservative, weighed the price tag of the cameras against the cost of hiring new police officers. The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the local police officers union, has warned of a police officer shortage. The cost of the 2,000 body cameras could pay for 21 new police officers for one year, said Jeff Barton, Phoenix Budget and Research Director.

Under the proposal, the 2,000 cameras would be rolled out gradually, corresponding geographically with the distribution of police shootings in 2018. The Phoenix Police Department has made national headlines for having the highest rate of police shootings among large cities in the United States in 2018.

Community groups, including the left-wing Poder in Action, have criticized Phoenix Police for the high rate of shootings, saying they are a symptom of systemic problems within the department.

Phoenix Police currently uses cameras manufactured by VieVu, a law enforcement equipment company that was recently acquired by Axon Enterprises. During a bidding process last year, the city selected Axon to provide the 2,000 additional cameras.

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams stressed that the new cameras would improve upon the current cameras used by the department. Notably, the new cameras would have the capability of automatically activating in critical situations, reducing instances in which officers forget to turn on their cameras. For example, opening a patrol car door could act as a trigger.

The use of body cameras is on the rise nationally, with mixed reactions from law enforcement experts. A study by Arizona State University found that citizens filed fewer complaints against Phoenix officers with body cameras. At the same time, those officers were less likely to use force. But a different study in Washington, D.C., found that body cameras had no effect on use of force in that city. 
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Steven Hsieh was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from August 2018 to April 2020.
Contact: Steven Hsieh