Five small Scott County police departments soon will have new body cameras to assist their officers on the job.
A shared community protection grant from the Scott County Regional Authority, or SCRA, will purchase 14 new cameras for departments in Blue Grass, LeClaire, McCausland, Princeton and Walcott. LeClaire will receive five cameras, Blue Grass and Walcott will each receive three, and Princeton and McCausland will receive two and one, respectively.
"The idea behind it is to get everybody on the same operating system," said LeClaire Police Chief Shane Themas, who credits fellow Police Chief Brian Carsten from Princeton with drafting the joint SCRA grant. "If we can get at least the small towns using the same equipment it makes it easier for the (Scott) County attorney to process those videos."
Carsten, who also serves as police chief in McCausland, said the application was for $36,869 and also included software to improve data storage. The SCRA grant awarded $17,700.
It was part of $1.49 million awarded to 72 projects late last month by SCRA, the same entity that holds the Isle Casino's gaming license. The authority received a total of 96 requests for funding that totaled $2.63 million. Since 1991, SCRA has awarded more than $84.36 million for projects and organizations in Scott County.
According to Carsten, the Eldridge Police Department opted out because its city council approved $40,000 for new body cameras. Buffalo police were awarded a separate SCRA grant for body and in-car camera system equipment.
The participating departments will receive Watchguard cameras, which cost $1,100 each.
Carsten said without the SCRA's funding, "most of these departments couldn't buy decent cameras." The grant will cover the WatchGuard body cameras, docking stations and other accessories.
"People don't realize all that goes along with (using them)," he said. "But people expect you to have this technology because it's talked about so much."
Early on, small departments had to buy less expensive models, which led to many different cameras and software systems being used across the county. But now, having unified cameras, "it will also be easier on those behind the scenes like the county attorney's office and the courts," Carsten said.
Themas said one of the benefits is that the new body cameras will sync with his department's existing squad cameras.
"We're to the point we would not be comfortable operating without them," he added. "They're critical when you have a citizen complaint and, more importantly, in the criminal prosecution."
However, Carsten admits there still are issues to address. "One of the biggest things is not the camera to put on your body, it's the management of it and the storage of it."
"If you'd have told me 30 years ago I'd have cameras in cars, cameras on our bodies, I would have said... no way, that was George Jetson stuff," he said.