A $2.3 million slice of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 2019 proposed budget would allow for supervisors to watch pursuits and incidents in real-time through the agency’s in-vehicle cameras.
(TNS) — Michigan State Police supervisors could remotely monitor pursuits and other critical incidents in real time under a $2.3-million plan to provide for livestreaming of the agency's patrol car dashboard cameras.
The proposed technology upgrade — included in Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's 2019 state budget proposal and believed to be a first among Michigan police agencies — follows an August 2017 incident in which a 15-year-old Detroit teenager crashed his ATV and died after a trooper fired a Taser at him from a pursuing patrol car.
Firing a Taser from a moving patrol car is a violation of department policy. The death of Damon Grimes resulted in a second-degree murder charge against a trooper, in a case that ended in a hung jury and mistrial in October.
Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for the State Police, wouldn't comment on whether Grimes' death might have been avoided if a patrol car livestreaming system had been in place in 2017.
"This question is purely speculative — cannot be answered," Banner said in an email.
However, the system is expected to be introduced in metro Detroit patrol cars first, according to records the Free Press obtained under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.
The MSP did not specifically reference the Grimes tragedy in setting out the rationale for its budget request, which also detailed projected cost savings over what is now a cumbersome system for processing police video.
But it said the system "would allow command to observe pursuits and other critical incidents live, allowing for better risk management-based decision-making," records show.
Also, "command will have the ability to make decisions based on the real event, not on assumptions," according to the budget request.
Geoffrey Fieger, a Southfield attorney representing the Grimes family in an ongoing 2017 federal lawsuit against the State Police and other defendants, said Wednesday the livestreaming sounds like a good investment and he hopes the death of Grimes was a factor in the MSP wanting to make the purchase.
Still, it would not be a cure-all, said Fieger, whose suit alleges that State Police supervisors sought to cover up what happened in the Grimes case.
"It's good they're proposing to have this additional supervision," but "you've got to have good people who are not going to subvert the system," Fieger told the Free Press.
Livestreaming of police dashboard or body cameras is still relatively rare among U.S. police departments, but use of the technology is growing.
Officials say they don't foresee a day when the public could watch such camera streams in real time, partly because of privacy concerns related to suspects and other citizens who encounter police but do not face charges.
"You will find universal objection to that, from the ACLU to the police," said Robert Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
"So many of these situations are ones that the public doesn't have a need or a right to know about."
Stevenson said he's not aware of any Michigan police agencies now using dashboard livestreaming, as "it's kind of leading-edge technology."
According to records obtained by the Free Press, the technology includes a security feature under which video is constantly buffered for after-the-fact retrieval, even if the "record" button is not turned on, "ensuring MSP has video of all incidents."
Banner said she didn't know how many of the agency's 1,368 patrol cars could be equipped with the new technology — or when — if the budget request is approved.
But in the records obtained through FOIA, the MSP said the technology would be introduced in metro Detroit first, where it would take about 60 days to implement.
The agency told state budget officials the system would enhance public safety, transparency and integrity, while also saving the department more than $1 million a year, once all patrol cars are equipped with the technology, over time.
During the administration of former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, the MSP reduced its number of posts statewide to 30 from 62, according to the unsigned four-page request sent to the State Budget Office. As a result, troopers work more remotely and "seldom return to a physical location." That has created problems with the timely uploading of both dashboard camera and body camera video, which the new cellular technology would address by allowing for instant remote uploading, the report said.
Doing so would save "significant man-hours that can be dedicated to serving the citizens of the SOM (State of Michigan)," the request said.
In the MSP's metro Detroit district alone, troopers and other officials spend 250 hours a month uploading and otherwise processing video, the report said. That means the statewide cost of such work is about $969,000, which would be reduced to just under $100,000 once the system is implemented statewide, according to the report.
The new technology would also help prevent video from getting corrupted while being transferred for storage, help ensure that video can't be intentionally altered, deleted or corrupted, and make it much easier to respond to Michigan Freedom of Information Act requests, the report said.
About half of the 20,000 FOIA requests the MSP receives annually include requests for video, and the report estimates the agency would save just over $200,000 a year in labor costs related to responding to those requests.
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