The Brewer Police Department has been testing body cameras. They have requested and received demo cameras from three companies. Officers have been wearing the demo units of each camera system for a month, before the decision is made about which cameras to purchase. Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

Bangor city councilors expressed general support for equipping the city’s police officers with body cameras during a budget meeting on Wednesday night, but they did not commit to doing so next year at an estimated cost of $300,000 in the first year.

Rather, after hearing from a few different members of the local organization Racial Equity and Justice during a meeting carried out over Zoom, the councilors said they would like to keep considering the body camera proposal alongside other programs that would advance equality and public health.

City Manager Cathy Conlow said she plans to meet with one of the group’s leaders, David Patrick, next week and come back to the council with a more comprehensive set of recommendations.

“It’s really important that we’re talking about body cams, but we need to ensure that we have funds diverted to trainings and things of that sort,” said another member of the group, Lokotah Sanborn. “If we’re just diverting more money to the police budget, that’s not what communities of color are asking for now. People want access to social services. How do body cams, in this instance, help to uplift those who are struggling with addiction or in recovery currently?”

Another group member, Ambureen Rana, said that any new municipal training programs should be developed and led by people of color and people from lower-income backgrounds.

The city considered funding a body camera program for its police department last year, but ultimately decided against it based on the costs and the lingering questions about how to protect the privacy of people caught on camera.

Councilors were already planning to reconsider the matter this year, but the proposal has received a rush of attention after the videotaped killing of an unarmed black man by police in Minneapolis last month set off a wave of national protests against racial injustice and police brutality. In Bangor, Racial Equity and Justice led a rally last week that attracted an estimated 500 to 600 people.

Councilor Angela Okafor — who spoke at the protest last week about the discrimination her family has faced as black people in Maine — said on Wednesday that she supports equipping officers with body cameras, but would like the city to also provide adequate training so that the cameras can be used most effectively. She also said she recognizes the challenge of funding any new city program now, when municipal revenues have been diminished by the coronavirus pandemic.

Councilor Ben Sprague said he also supports the concept, but added that the city could consider whether it might be able to receive federal grants in the future to help it start a body camera program.

Council Chair Clare Davitt said the city should also consider a recommendation from Racial Equity and Justice to create an advisory board to help guide such decisions.