St. Louis board approves free body cams for city police

The St. Louis Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted unanimously to approve a proposal to equip St. Louis police officers with body cameras free of charge for a year after a heated exchange between lawmakers.

It's a plan that has come with plenty of controversy.

A vote from the full Board of Aldermen was not needed for the program. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment is made up of Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, and Comptroller Darlene Green. Reed only needed one vote and he got both.

However, that vote came with some very heated discussion during the meeting as we heard shouting matches between elected officials. There were also heat exchanges between residents and three board members in the meeting room at St. Louis City Hall, which was packed with community leaders, residents and Anthony Lamar Smith's mother, who was waiting to hear the outcome of the board’s decision.

Arizona-based company Axon offered the free body cameras and software to any police department that asks. Reed said he helped secure that free offer for one year at no obligation to purchase the cameras.

Reed said that if after one year the city decides it wants to keep the cameras, the cost to taxpayers would be $1.2 million. He said that money would be included in the budget at the beginning of the next fiscal year. If the city doesn't want to continue using the body cams, lawmakers can cancel the deal with Axon at no charge.

The process to equip all 1,200 officers could begin in about three months.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department issued a statement that reads, in part:

After careful review of the department’s body camera pilot program, Chief O’Toole recognizes the value body cameras provide to modern day policing and therefore supports a program that included long tern funding, as well as administrative and legal support.

When implementing this program, Chief O’Toole wants to insure it is successful for the Metropolitan Police Department.

A small group of sergeants participated in a trial with the cameras back in December 2015. That experiment ended and at this point no city officers have body cameras.