Mich. county plans to put cameras in all police, paramedic vehicles

The Genesee County Board of Commissioners approved a more than $263,000 purchase of camera systems that officials say will help avoid costly lawsuits


Ron Fonger
MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

FLINT, Mich. — Genesee County is moving to equip all patrol and paramedic vehicles from the Sheriff’s Office with cameras, joining departments across the country that are ramping up the use of video recording equipment.

The county Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of camera systems for all marked Sheriff’s Office vehicles at a cost of more than $263,000 in a committee meeting Wednesday, Sept. 16, an action it could finalize with a vote of the full county commission next week.

Genesee County has approved the purchase of camera systems for police and paramedic vehicles that officials say will help the county avoid lawsuits. (Photo/Genesee County Sheriff's Office)
Genesee County has approved the purchase of camera systems for police and paramedic vehicles that officials say will help the county avoid lawsuits. (Photo/Genesee County Sheriff's Office)

Sheriff Chris Swanson said the purchase is the first part of a technology upgrade he wants to continue in the next fiscal year with the addition of body cameras for officers.

“The public has a higher expectation from law enforcement today,” Swanson said after the initial vote Wednesday. “We have to be proactive getting the things that will increase trust ... Nobody can argue with video.”

County police and paramedic vehicles haven’t been equipped with cameras previously, and the sheriff said he wants to upgrade that area before adding body-worn cameras, which he’s proposed be purchased in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Swanson said vehicles will have to be outfitted, video storage arranged and policies developed before the equipment from Watch Guard is put into use.

County Prosecutor David Leyton told commissioners the addition of video to will help avoid litigation.

“The more video that exists of the alleged incident the better it is for all of us,” said Leyton, who said body cameras are also needed and rare in police departments in the county.

“We are way behind in that area,” he said. “As you know from the George Floyd incident and all the other incidents that have plagued our country over the last several years, body cameras can make a difference. We’ve got to get up to speed on issues of police reform."

Police camera video of Minneapolis officers arresting Floyd was released to the public just last month even though video filmed by a bystander had already shown Floyd crying for air and going limp under the knee of a police officer.

The video from former officers Thomas Lane and J. Kueng also shows Floyd pleading with the officers as they struggled to place him in a squad car in the minutes before his death on May 25.

Commissioner Ted Henry, D-Clayton Twp., said the vehicle cameras are an investment designed to protect Genesee County and police as well as the public.

“Sometimes you have to spend money to save money,” Henry said. “The savings from one lawsuit would more than take care of this cost.”

In addition to paramedic vehicles, which are operated by specially trained deputies, the county also has a small fleet of patrol vehicles -- operated on a contract basis -- in Atlas, Fenton and Vienna townships.

Major David Stamm of the Sheriff’s Office said money from the county’s paramedic millage will be used to pay for the vehicle cameras.

“It’s something we really should have,” Stamm told commissioners before Wednesday’s vote.

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©2020 MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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