WATERVILLE — The nationwide issue of police shootings became a local focus Tuesday night as city councilors launched a discussion about whether Waterville officers should — and will in the future — wear cameras on the job.

Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, prompted the discussion during a budget workshop in which he asked police Chief Joseph Massey if anyone had offered to donate body-worn cameras to his department.

“I’ve had someone approach me and say they were willing to purchase two of them,” Massey said.

“Is that something you feel you need?” Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, asked.

Massey said he thinks there will be a movement toward officers wearing cameras, but that would bring into play a lot of issues police departments would have to deal with.

“We have to come up with a policy,” he said. “That policy has to deal with how to use them, when to use them, when to turn them off.”

Massey cited questions that must be answered before body cameras are worn: Would officers wear them in private homes? In the presence of doctors treating clients? Should officers view such digital recordings before they write reports, as it could bring into question when probable cause was established?

“Then there’s the huge issue of storage, and that’s going to be the long-term expense,” he said.

The cost of storing digital recordings would be significant, according to Massey.

“There’ll be an issue of discovery. How long are we going to store those?”

Massey said he would like to see a national standard set that would spell out regulations for body-worn cameras, including what would be required for discovery, how freedom of information requests should be handled and the like.

“All of a sudden, all of those privacy issues come into play,” he said.

The camera discussion came during scrutiny of the police department’s proposed $3 million budget, which represents a 3 percent increase over the current $2.9 million budget.

City Manager Michael Roy said the approximate $85,000 increase in the budget is due largely to one item — an increase in the Maine State Retirement System costs.

Massey said wages decreased about $8,000 because he hired officers at lower wages than those they replaced.

The overtime budget, he said, is expected to increase by about $10,000. The safety supply budget is expected to increase $11,500 because new bullet-proof vests and some tasers are needed, he said.

“Tasers are 10 to 12 years old,” he said “They’re really at the end of their shelf-life — they’re about $900 each.”

Several bullet-proof vests are needed, as they have a shelf-life of about five years, and that time is about up. The vests cost about $700 each. The federal Department of Justice provides a grant to pay for half of such vests, Massey said.

He said he budgeted for three new cruisers for a total of $95,000. His comment prompted a discussion about why sport utility vehicles are preferable to sedans in his department.

Massey said SUVs are four-wheel-drive, have larger room for cargo, hold up better than cars, have a better trade-in value and are more economical.

“The back seats of the cruisers were so small you had a tough time getting a prisoner in there without hitting their knees,” he said.

His department has 31 sworn, full-time officers (including Massey and Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey), one of whom works full time with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, he said.

A discussion ensued about whether Waterville and Winslow could work together to share officers with Massey saying that 15 years ago the two communities talked about that and there were too many issues they could not overcome, including union, insurance and retirement matters.

“We should definitely revisit that,” Mayor Nick Isgro said.

Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, agreed.

“That was quite a few years ago,” she said. “Times have changed and you’ve got different managers at the helm, which is a key.”

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, asked Massey if Damon Lefferts, the school resource officer who also will serve as a part-time South End resource officer, would be stationed this summer at the South End Teen Center for certain hours for children who have questions and concerns.

Massey said he will talk with South End Teen Center Director Steve Soule to iron that out.

“I know he’s doing a great job at the junior high school — very, very personable,” Rancourt-Thomas said.

Massey’s budget is part of an overall proposed municipal budget of $16.5 million, which reflects a slight increase from the current budget. The proposed school budget is $21.8 million, but officials emphasized that the numbers will likely change as items are slashed or added.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.