A legislative proposal to require local police officers to be outfitted with body cameras is a good idea, but the funding mechanism that the bill’s sponsors came up with would piggyback onto enhanced 911 coverage that Elko County is just beginning to implement.
The bill requires any officers who have regular contact with the public to be equipped with body cameras. What it does not provide is any money, other than to say local governments “may” increase residents’ phone bills up to a dollar a month to cover their cost.
What do police body cameras have to do with telephone bills?
What’s next, adding a surcharge to our electric bills to pay for pothole repairs? Adding a surcharge to our water bills to pay for pet spaying and neutering?
Elko County Commissioners this month finally adopted an enhanced 911 plan that triggers a 25-cent telephone surcharge to cover its cost. This makes sense because it will advance our telephone service to the point that police and other emergency responders can find a home quickly and easily. The move had broad support from the public, including businesses, which donated more than $200,000 to get the program rolling as soon as possible.
Now, before the ink is barely dry on that deal, this new proposal would have the county charge another 75 cents a month to fund body cameras. If counties don’t comply with the fee rollup, they face an unfunded mandate – as do any cities, townships and courts with armed officers.
Body cameras are a good way to protect both officers and citizens in the field as police go about their efforts to protect and serve us. A couple of Elko police officers purchased their own cameras and use them while on duty. West Wendover police already have them, and some other counties are attempting to work them into their budgets.
The cost of the tiny recording devices, as well as the cost of computer file storage, has dropped precipitously in recent years. The law calls for recordings to be kept for at least 15 days, and storage can be purchased for less than $50 a terabyte.
Lawmakers in the 2015 session attempted to pass similar body camera legislation but had to scale it back to only Nevada Highway Patrol troopers because of cost concerns. That system, which took nearly two years to implement, has an estimated cost of $1,000 a year per officer, not counting the initial equipment cost.
Expanding the requirement to other agencies makes sense, but funding it with our phone bills does not.
Many Elko residents were dumbfounded at how long it took our county to get the ball rolling on enhanced 911service. The county has adopted the required five-year plan and phone companies are collecting fees from most customers, but even this seemingly simple program is turning out to be very complicated. Changes in telephone use and technology will require significant upgrades to keep the program effective. If more money should be needed to keep police and the public connected via 911, the program would take a back seat to police body cameras under the proposed law.
City and county governments are liable for their own police, and they should be able to prioritize the incorporation of body cameras into their budgets without raising everyone’s phone bill again. Let’s keep telephone surcharges connected to expenses that relate to telephones.