The City Council at its regular meeting voted unanimously to apply for a $186,286 Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program federal grant that would help the department afford a five-year $1.24 million contract with Axon for 127 body cameras for the department's officers.
After the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, the culture changed, and some of the public started pushing for officers to wear body cameras, Chief Gary Ratliff said.
"At that point in time, it just pissed me off," Ratliff said of the public's outcry for body cameras.
Ratliff said he trusts his officers to do their job with integrity. He vowed only two things would make him change his view and be OK with his officers wearing body cameras: legislation that made it legally required and a push from his own officers.
Since January 2018, League City police have been involved in eight shootings, and officers have begun expressing a desire to wear body cameras. One officer involved in a shooting told Ratliff he wished Ratliff could see the assailant's face before officers fired on him, Ratliff said.
Additionally, the League City Police Department's peers are all using body cameras. Police for Friendswood, Texas City and Galveston have all been using body cameras for at least two years, Lt. Travis Ladd said.
"We’re the only agency our size in the county or in the immediate area that is not currently using body-worn cameras," he said.
Body cameras help departments avoid expensive litigation and provide transparency to the public, Ladd added.
League City police researched several body camera companies and tested three of them: Axon, BodyWorn and WatchGuard. While all were good, Axon came out on top. The company is likely to stay at the forefront of technology as body-worn cameras become more widely used, Ladd said.
The police department uses L3 for its in-car cameras that record during traffic stops. L3 has not updated its in-car systems much in the nearly 20 years League City police have been using them, which is why the department does not want to use L3 for body cameras, Ladd said.
Body cameras would add over $200,000 in annual expenses to the department's budget indefinitely. Still, City Manager John Baumgartner said it would be a "missed opportunity" to not vote in favor for applying for the grant.
Ratliff added the department, which has been considering body cameras since 2018, had planned to host a workshop about the advantages of the devices and ease the council into the decision, but then COVID-19 struck.
"I know that this time is not the ideal time to bring this forward," Ratliff said.
Then the first grant related to body-worn cameras since 2016 came up, and Ratliff wanted to have the council consider applying while it was possible to apply, he said.
"This is a small part of a bigger project," Ratliff said of what the grant would fund.