DeKalb advances police body camera plan despite losing funding

DeKalb County is moving toward equipping police with body cameras even though it lost a request for federal funding to support the effort.

The county plans to rely on local tax money to pay the entire $2 million cost of body cameras for more than 400 police officers. DeKalb had sought nearly $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to help purchase the body cameras but wasn’t one of the governments to win a grant award.

Fifteen deaths resulted from DeKalb police use of force since 2010, according to the Justice Department’s review of the county’s grant application.

Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May proposed police body cameras as a way to improve accountability following fatal shootings.

“We’re going to put in our own money so every officer on the street will have body cameras,” May said on WAOK-AM in October after learning DeKalb wasn’t awarded the federal grant. “We’ve got to have a police force that better engages the public. It’s not an adversarial thing — it’s a community-based thing.”

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Of the 67 mid-sized agencies — including DeKalb — that applied for federal body camera funding, 19 were selected across the country based on peer reviews, strategic priorities, past performance and geographic diversity, according to a letter from the Justice Department to May dated Oct. 7.

“The plan would have been even more effective with a more robust policy development plan and with a stronger demonstration of broad-based community engagement and support,” according to a review summary provided to the county.

The DeKalb Commission budgeted $1 million in July to start the body camera program, and that money remains available to pay the winning bidder for the county’s body camera contract, said county spokesman Burke Brennan.

A county evaluation committee is reviewing proposals from the bidders and will later make a recommendation, which will then be put to a vote of the commission, he said.

This summer, May plans to propose budgeting the remaining $1 million sought for the body camera initiative, Brennan said.

Nationwide, the Justice Department awarded $23 million for body cameras to 73 agencies through its Body-Worn Camera Pilot Implementation Program.

Three jurisdictions in Georgia won awards: the Newton County Sheriff’s Office ($89,199), the St. Marys Police Department ($69,000) and Wilkinson County ($9,523).

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