Superior City Council mulls new police body cameras, Tasers
The SPDs current equipment is failing at an 'unsustainable rate,' according to Capt. Paul Winterscheidt.
The Superior City Council will consider spending more than $500,000 to replace the police department’s aging stun guns, body cameras and squad cameras at its Tuesday, Dec. 21, meeting.
The purchase, which would be spread out over five years, could be funded with American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
“We have a system that’s being held together with Band-Aids right now, so it needs to be addressed,” Police Chief Nicholas Alexander told the public safety committee at its Wednesday, Dec. 15, meeting.
The department’s body cameras were purchased six years ago. Since that time, the number of use of force incidents has declined as have the number of citizen complaints, Alexander said. They've helped gather evidence and increase citizen trust.
"I can't imagine policing without them," the chief said.
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But the equipment is failing at an “unsustainable rate,” according to Capt. Paul Winterscheidt. Sixteen of the cameras failed over the last year and cost $450 each to replace.
‘Right now you have to search for a functioning body worn camera. That’s not a situation we want to put our officers in,” Winterscheidt said.
Even working cameras have batteries that don’t last a full shift, he said. Officers have to plug them into their squads or return to the station to charge them. Squad cameras are also failing, as is the hard drive of the 44-terrabyte server used to store that digital evidence.
Stun guns have been used to save lives and apprehend dangerous suspects while reducing officer and suspect injuries in Superior over the past 15 years. Many of current units are a decade old and failing.
“I can think of several shifts that I’ve covered on the street helping out with the sergeants where I haven’t had a Taser to take out on the street,” Winterscheidt said.
And the current units are only about 50% effective, even at close range.
Winterscheidt discussed the capabilities of the proposed new equipment, including more effective Tasers and body worn cameras that offer high definition, live-streaming video that starts recording automatically when a gun or Taser is drawn, cloud-based storage and the ability to track an officer’s exact position via GPS. The body worn cameras would also be replaced every 2 1/2 years, leaving the department with brand-new equipment at the end of the contract. The cost of the new equipment would be a little over $573,000 for the system preferred by the department.
“The funding is there for it. It gives our officers the best tools and equipment to do their job most effectively and safely, both for themselves and for our interactions with community members,” Alexander said.
Purchasing them now would also save the city money. Alexander said he expects the price to jump by 5% in 2022.
Councilors on the public safety committee supported the recommendation.
“Tech has a shelf life, you know, so the time that you got out of it was well done,” said Councilor Tylor Elm, who represents the 6th District.
“If this stuff is needed, we have the money and it’s time to update,” said 1st District Councilor Nicholas Ledin. “If this is more effective policing, if this helps with community trust and helps bring down any use of force or makes it more successful so our officers safely go home every night, I will make a motion to approve this.”
If approved, the new system would replace most of the department’s digital evidence storage and increase the ability to share that information with the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office and the Duluth Police Department, Winterscheidt said. Maintaining the cloud data storage would cost less than what the city is currently paying for its own hard data storage, he said.