Feds grant Aurora police $850K over 3 years to offset expected body camera price hike

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An Aurora Police officer wearing a current model of police body camera. File photo by Marla R. Keown/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | The Aurora Police Department has been tabbed to receive more than $850,000 in federal grant money to help pay for body-worn cameras over the next three years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado. 

The city was the only municipality in Colorado to receive a slice of a $20.5 million pot awarded to 82 agencies across the country to supplement the cost of body cameras and “improve their capacity to gather evidence and protect the safety of law enforcement officers and citizens,” according to Department of Justice documents. The grant is coordinated through the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice.  

The city will receive a total of $852,580 over the course of three years, according to a spokesman for Aurora police.

“This grant will help make (the) Aurora Police Department better and thus the people of Aurora safer,” U.S. Attorney for Colorado Jason Dunn said in a statement. 

Body cameras in Aurora have been frequent fodder for criticism in recent months after multiple officers had their cameras become dislodged during the arrest of 23-year-old Elijah McClain in August. McClain died several days after he was arrested.

“One thing we didn’t hear adequately explained (at a news conference) is just how it is that all of the on-scene officers who were physically involved in bringing down Elijah McClain … managed to miraculously shed their body cameras so that you as a community do not have an opportunity to see what really happened,” the McClain family’s attorney Mari Newman said at a protest in front of the Aurora Municipal Center in November.

Outgoing Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz has underscored that the officers who interacted with McClain did not intentionally strip their cameras from their chest-mounted holsters, and that displacing various parts of a police uniform during an arrest is common. He added that the city is actively working to find a new vendor to supply the department’s body-worn cameras.

City Councilwoman Nicole Johnston, who has called for additional oversight of the police department following McClain’s death, said at a community forum earlier this month that the city will “absolutely” be pursuing a new body-worn camera vendor next year. 

The full city council agreed to extend the city’s current contract with its body camera vendor, Axon/Vievu, last month for a fifth and final year. The one-year deal will cost the city $286,899, according to city documents.

Johnston said she and other members of council agreed to extend the current contract despite the recent issues with cameras coming off because officers would have had to operate without cameras had the agreement been axed. 

The bulk of the city’s body camera contract covers data storage, according to Officer Tony Camacho, spokesman for the Aurora Police Department. The city currently pays about $24,000 per month for camera data storage.

Camacho said the city is anticipating paying as much as three times that monthly total under a new contract with a new vendor next year.

When we signed the current contract we were able to negotiate a very favorable rate,” he wrote in an email.

City Budget Manager Greg Hays said the bulk of the grant funds will be allocated to cover those additional contractual costs when council members ink a new agreement next fall.

“I don’t think it will be for more equipment as much as it will be for covering the new cost,” Hays said.

The city will continue to allocate funds for the cameras, according to Hays. The grant funding will not completely cover the city’s costs, but will augment the expected price bump.

“What this grant is going to allow us to do is to absorb those cost increases when we go with a new vendor, and that’s where I think this grant is very well-timed and will be very helpful,” Deputy City Manager Jason Batchelor said.

The city currently has licenses for 525 body-worn cameras, according to Camacho.