SIOUX CITY -- The Sioux City Council unanimously voted Monday to approve the purchase of 120 body cameras that will be worn daily by the city's police officers.
Purchasing cameras is currently voluntary for Iowa law enforcement agencies, but Sioux City has been considering them for several years, vetting different models and taking public input. In recent weeks, a number of citizens voiced concerns at council meetings about the police department's lack of body cameras.
Unity in the Community founder Monique Scarlett said outfitting Sioux City Police officers with body cameras is "something that is past due" and urged the community to work together.
"What I don't like is us versus them," she said. "Body cameras should be accountability for everyone, including our Sioux City Police Department, as well as our citizens."
Cameras have been present in SCPD cars since the mid-1990s, but body cams, which will be worn in the chest area, will create additional transparency when officers move outside their cars.
"I really do appreciate the citizens that came forward. They came and pushed this forward and demanded that we move on this item," Councilman Alex Watters said after the vote. "I think everyone in our community, including our officers, are more safe because of it."
The passage of the resolution awards a $260,861 purchase order to Midwest Public Safety LLC for the cameras. Included in the cost is the hardware and software needed to integrate the system with 37 patrol cars and equipment necessary to operate and maintain it. The police department hopes to have officers wearing the cameras before the end of this year.
Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller told the council that the "biggest sticking point" is receiving the materials, which could take six to eight weeks.
"We have basically already got the path paved. We have a policy written. Once we take delivery, we can then have trainers train the department and integrate it into our software," he said. "We're going to make this transition as quickly as possible."
Under the department's policy, Mueller said patrol officers will have to have the cameras turned on during all contacts with the public. He said officers will be allowed to turn the cameras off during "especially sensitive incidents," such as an interview with a victim.
"If officers did that, they would have to document why they shut those down," said Mueller, who said the department looked to the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies for guidance when drafting its policy.
Resident Gene Boykin Jr. said officers should not be able to view their body camera footage before writing an incident report. He said he would like to see a citizens oversight committee formed for the body cameras.
"Any officers that are accused of excessive force, I'd like that oversight committee to have access to all the information that pertains to the excessive force complaint," he said.
Mayor Bob Scott told Boykin that the city is working with Ike Rayford, president of the NAACP chapter in Sioux City, and a group of citizens to develop an equity and inclusiveness advisory committee that will "have some view of that in the future."
"Until we finalize that program, I'm not for an oversight committee at this time," said Scott, who said two or three citizens selected by the council will sit on the equity and inclusiveness committee.
Councilman Pete Groetken noted that the Sanford Center sponsored a police citizens committee in the late 70s and early 80s that was endorsed by the city council.
"I thought it was a great way to communicate, a great way to share ideas," he said. "If we're talking about a committee that allows for access to city personnel and, at the same time, gives the community an opportunity to share their opinions, I think it's a great idea. It worked very, very well for a long period of time."