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Buffalo signs deal to buy 550 bodycams for city officers

The Buffalo Common Council has signed a deal to buy 550 body-worn cameras for the Buffalo Police Department.

The first 150 body cameras will be delivered next month, with the rest being rolled out through April.

The move comes nearly two years after the police-involved death on Feb. 7 of Wardel Davis, a 20-year-old man who died while being taken into custody by two Buffalo police officers. An investigation by the state Attorney General's Office found no evidence to warrant criminal charges but said it found the department's "policies in real need of reform." The office recommended the use of body cameras by patrol officers.

When the Attorney General's Office recommendations were released in December 2017, the police had already announced they would be testing bodycams.

Earlier this month, the Attorney General's Office gave the Buffalo Police Department $150,000 to purchase 300 bodycams.

The city is buying the cameras from Axon, which dominates the market for body cameras. The company was formerly called Taser and got its start making stun guns by that name.

The city has agreed to pay $2.168 million over five years for the body cameras, which retail for $499 a piece, as well as software, data storage, training and maintenance costs to Axon.

"We have definitely committed now to the bodycam program," said Common Council President Darius Pridgen Friday.

Council members voted to approve the contract Wednesday. Pridgen said the city would soon begin rolling out the cameras in phases.

"This is a step forward, a step forward for both the public and for our officers," Pridgen said.

The Council's Police Oversight Committee will take a look at the Buffalo Police Department's proposed bodycam policy submitted to the Council last week, Pridgen said.

"There is a concern about some of the policy," Pridgen said. "Some people were concerned about being able to give confidential information to police with a bodycam rolling."

Others are concerned about what kind of discretion police officers will have in recording – and not recording – interactions with the public.

Police began a four-month pilot study in March involving two varieties of body cameras made by Axon and Vievue. Axon bought Vievue in May, the New York Times reported.

A series of community forums held by the city's Police Advisory Board earlier this year raised several questions about the use of body cameras, including:

• Whether the public would have a chance to weigh in on the city's body camera policy.

• What discretion officers would have on when cameras could be shut off.

• Whether the department would consider easing restrictions on public access to body camera footage.

• Whether limits would be placed on using facial recognition and other biometric technology along with the camera footage.

•  Whether the department should automatically delete video after six months unless there is a specific reason for it to be kept.

Problems still seen in Buffalo police body-camera policies

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