Funding for police body cameras excluded in proposed city budget

Sebastian Squire, News Reporter

The City of Walla Walla excluded body cameras in the proposed biennium (two-year) budget for the Walla Walla Police Department (WWPD), which was released Oct. 31, 2022.

Along with the cameras, WWPD requested an additional records keeping position due to staffing shortages and the extra work required to comply with body worn cameras (BWC)-related public disclosure requests.

Body cameras and records positions have support from the Chief of Police, the Police Guild and the Chief’s Advisory Committee, as well as several city council members.

According to Chief’s Advisory Committee meeting minutes, WWPD received a quote from Axon in 2021, which estimates that the cost “for a five-year BWC project is $752,738 (comprised of $349,895 for the BWC system and $402,842 for PDR Clerk salary).”

WWPD won a $90,000 grant for the cameras; however, this still leaves much of the cost to the city.

The proposed budget is not yet ratified, meaning that it has yet to be finalized, and the city council in the process of amending it. During an Oct. 26 meeting, the council informally voted 5-7 to leave the BWCs and records position off the proposed budget, but to direct staff to find places where the budget could be cut to support BWCs during further debate on Nov. 14.

The issue of BWCs has consistently been discussed by the Chief’s Advisory Committee, a group of citizens that advises the police chief. 

Roger Esparza, a longtime member of the advisory committee, characterized the decision to not include BWCs in the proposed budget as “a little heartbreaking.”

“I’m hoping we can get these on our budget and to our officers as soon as possible. I think it would be great for everyone. If you ask the officers, the Chief of Police, the captains, sergeants, they all want to see them. If they want to see them, the community wants to see them, so what’s holding us back?” Esparza said. “If we have the means to be able to get it done, let’s get it done.”

Walla Walla Mayor Tom Scribner said that he would not be surprised if BWCs are ultimately in the budget; however, he is more doubtful about the records position that accompanies them.

Illustration by Keeli McKern.

The city council will meet Nov. 14 to discuss the budget and BWCs in greater detail.

The finance committee (composed of three council members) supported body cameras in the 2023-24 budget. City staff, in order to prepare and present to council a balanced budget (as required by state law), did not include the body cameras and an additional position at the police department to handle anticipated work to respond to public records requests involving body camera video,” Scribner said. “We will return to the budget and the body camera issue at our regular meeting on Nov. 14.

Councilman Ted Koehler is on the finance committee that oversaw the proposed budget.

In the final draft presented to the full council, these items along with others were not included in order to balance the draft budget. We are mandated to have a balanced budget,” Koehler said. “Looking for opportunities within the budget revenue side and currently include[ing] expenses department by department will likely be the realistic option.

Koehler supports including money for the cameras and records position in the final budget.

Councilman Rick Eskil considers BWCs a priority in the final budget, although he wants to explore a shared records position between the WWPD and Walla Walla County Sheriff’s office. 

I will not vote for a budget without body cameras and a way to properly store and access records that satisfies Walla Walla Police Chief Chris Buttice and his department,” Eskil said.

One possible option to fund the program may be to use reserve funds, which Esparza supports. Koehler fears that this would cause the reserve to be depleted over time and does not support dipping into reserves. Eskil does not believe that using reserves will be necessary.