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Richmond City Council members question police department officials on Taser International contract. Photo by Jacob Shea.

Council votes to fund contract for new police body cams and tasers

on October 20, 2016

At a five-and-a-half hour meeting on Tuesday night, the Richmond City Council voted to fund a new contract for police body cameras and tasers following a heated debate.

The proposed five-year contract with Taser International, a public safety technology company, would provide the city with 160 body-worn cameras, digital evidence maintenance systems and “conducted energy devices”—better known as tasers—for the police department.

The request for such a contract came from the Richmond Police Department (RPD). Captain Arnold Threets told the council that the department’s current equipment is outdated, inefficient and a liability in the field.

The program would cost roughly $190,000 a year from the general fund. A one-time federal grant for $132,000 would help defray costs for the first year.

Councilmembers agreed with the need for the equipment but disputed funding sources.

Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin said that the council needed to consider whether the measure would strip money from other programs that draw from the general fund, such as community center services and library services.

“We also have to address the roots of violence,” she said. “I want a police department to have what it needs, but I also want our community to have what it needs.”

Councilmembers Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez voiced similar concerns.

Some city departments are operating at “bare bones,” said Martinez, while the police department has “the lion’s share of our budget.”

Mayor Tom Butt, along with councilmembers Nat Bates and Vinay Pimplé, opted to approve the measure without first requiring the RPD to account for how the new equipment would provide savings.

Butt said that the city has been discussing policies to address the use of force for the past two-and-a-half years—in the context of a national debate over police shootings—and that working body cameras and tasers make accountability and nonlethal enforcement possible.

Bates expressed frustration that some councilmembers support the Black Lives Matter movement but do little to address police shootings. “If this building collapsed, we would find the money,” said Bates. “Why don’t we treat this like an emergency?”

The debate followed a public comments session in which relatives of Richard “Pedie” Perez, who was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014, spoke to the council.

“The police did wrong,” said Rick Perez, Pedie Perez’s father. “That’s all we’re asking for; acknowledgement of that.”

The motion to fund the contract passed with all but one vote. Martinez, who voted no, said he supported the measure but did not support the possibility of decreasing funding for other programs.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to endorse California Proposition 55, which extends federal revenue for schools and healthcare by roughly $110 million dollars. West Contra Costa Unified School District Superintendent Matthew Duffy, who presented the measure, said the funds would be lost if the proposition doesn’t pass the general election.

The council also voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to urge Congress to enact a national revenue-neutral carbon tax.

Councilman Jael Myrick proposed an amendment to the Richmond Municipal Code, which would include language encouraging cannabis growers to bring Richmond residents into ownership groups.

“The idea here is that there are many people [in Richmond] who might have expertise and add value on this,” said Myrick.

In a closed session held prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, councilmembers met with legal teams to discuss an ongoing lawsuit between Upstream LLC and the City of Richmond concerning the development at Point Molate and held negotiations between labor union leaders from the Richmond Police Officers Association and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

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