Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Questions about the police reorg and body cameras

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2015 at 10:55 AM

The Rochester Police Department is on my mind these days. Specifically, the police reorg and the city’s decision to outfit cops with body cameras.

When is a reorg not a reorg? Well, according to the police union, it’s when you rearrange the desk chairs and call it a reorganization. The city went ahead with the restructuring without leasing new buildings or having a plan — one that would include cost estimates — for leasing space down the line.

Leaving aside the very fair question of whether “reorganizing in place” is a true reorganization at all, there are also significant questions of cost. A “needs assessment” presumably looking at costs, potential locations for new police stations, etc. is happening now, Police Chief Mike Ciminelli said during a recent budget hearing. But it might’ve been useful to have that assessment before we went ahead with any kind of restructuring at all.

What if the report recommends the status quo: no new buildings? That’s not going to make the police union and, most likely, the public — the two key constituencies in this whole thing — happy; I don’t think it’s going too far to say that most people expected the reorg to put stations in the neighborhoods.

What if the report recommends new stations, but has a big, fat price tag attached? Where’s that money coming from? That’s not a one-shot; that’s cash we’re going to have to find each and every year. The city struggles annually to close multimillion-dollar budget gaps; if the money’s going to the police, it probably means that somebody else’s funding gets cut.

And if City Council members decide that they can’t support a big yearly cash outlay for neighborhood police stations, does that mean that they catch the blame if the reorganization doesn’t “work” — however you define that? Council members were already voicing concerns about police costs — specifically rising overtime costs — during the budget hearing.

Body cameras. The city’s latest budget includes $2 million for a body-camera program. Beyond that, we know little about the city’s plans. How much will the $2 million cover? Where’s the rest of the money going to come from? Will every officer get a camera immediately, or will we have a pilot program first? Who has the authority to turn the cameras on and off? How long will the footage be stored and who gets to see it? The devil really is in the details with these things.

Hopefully, answers are forthcoming.

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