The Niagara Falls Police Department will become one of the first in the area to outfit its officers with body cameras.
The Niagara Falls City Council unanimously approved a measure from Mayor Paul Dyster, put forth at the request of Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto, to use $22,500 in casino revenues to purchase 48 cameras for the department.
DalPorto told the council during the administrative update portion of the council meeting that the cameras will help to provide clarity to any police encounters with civilians.
"Whether it's a traffic stop or something more serious, it'll provide an independent, accurate record of exactly what happened on any given call," he said.
The cameras will be rotated throughout patrol shifts, being turned in to the department at the end of each shift. The content of the video cannot be deleted by the officers and a member of the administration will be responsible for the downloading of all video content, DalPorto said.
While the issue of body cameras has become a popular topic in the wake of several incidents of civilian deaths at the hands of police, particularly those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island, the police department has been looking into equipping officers with cameras for about a year.
DalPorto said his administration and the patrol officers are all on board with the idea of implementing the body camera system.
"I think that speaks to the professionalism of the police department that we have here in Niagara Falls," he said.
Council Chairman Charles Walker said that too often police encounters can result in a "he said, she said" scenario with the officer and citizen offering different accounts of the interaction.
"I think having those cameras will help us be able to really understand a little more as to what really happened," he said.
Mayor Paul Dyster said he is proud of the police administration and officers for embracing the technology.
"I think the fact that they're supportive of this, first of all, shows that they have confidence in their own skill and training," the mayor said. "They believe that they're abiding by the regulations the vast majority of the time and they're not afraid to have the world see how it is that they do their jobs."
Dyster said the move is evidence of the department's ongoing efforts to improve the relationship between the police and the community.
"This is a department that's dedicated to the principle of community policing," Dyster said.
In other news, the council:
• Honored Tom Vitello, Sr. a long-time public employee and official who passed away last month. Vitello was a life-long resident of Niagara Falls who worked for many public institutions, including the school district, the city and the wastewater treatment plant. He also served as a member of the water board from 2007 to 2014. The council presented a proclamation to Vitello's family at the beginning of the meeting.
• Unanimously passed a measure to approve the hiring of a grant writing consultant at a cost of $35,000 for 2015. Casino revenues were allocated for this purpose as part of the budget process.
• Passed a measure increasing permits and fees for contractors in a 3-2 vote. Councilman Andrew Touma, who brought the measure, said the move would create extra revenue and put the city's fee structure in line with neighboring municipalities. He was joined by Walker and Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti in passing the measure. Both Councilman Robert Anderson, Jr. and Councilman Glenn Choolokian voted no to the measure, saying they would have liked to have seen more discussion on the item before a vote.
• Passed a measure put forth by Touma that will raise fees at Hyde Park Golf Course by a 3-2 vote. Seasonal passes will go up by $100 and nine holes greens fees will go from $5 to $9. The vote was identical to the action on the permits and fees measure.