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Niagara Falls, N.Y., Spends ARP Funds on Body Cams

The cost for the police body cameras and software to operate them came in at $765,991.49, an expenditure that officials say would have been impossible to make without the American Rescue Plan funding.

(TNS) — When Falls police officers were involved in a shooting on June 3, the first thing detectives investigating the incident looked for was the video recorded by the officer's body-worn cameras.

Just days before the shooting, the officers involved in the incident had been outfitted with new state-of-the-art Axon Body 3 body-worn cameras. The new body cams replaced obsolete cameras that had been in use since 2015.

The old cameras had been plagued by discoloration in the video, some were prone to randomly zooming-in on objects and the cams were notorious for falling off of officers during physical confrontations or bouncing to the point where viewing the video could induce motion sickness.

"You're going to get a much better view as an officer is at a scene," Mayor Robert Restaino said in announcing the purchase of the cameras using funding from the city's American Rescue Plan grant. "It's long overdue and much needed in our department."

Restaino's prediction proved true on the day of the shooting. The new body cams captured crisp, clear images of the confrontation between police and Reginald Barnes.

Officials have already suggested that the body cam video definitively shows that officers responded appropriately and in a manner consistent with their training.

"I think (the body cam video) speaks volumes. We have witnesses (to what happened). But (the body cam video) takes it to another level," Falls Police Superintendent John Faso said. "I'm very pleased (with the new cameras)."

Days after the incident, police released the body camera footage to news organizations. The mayor said the body cameras provided increased transparency and accountability for the officers.

The department purchased 90 of the Axon body cameras, allowing every officer in the department to have their own dedicated camera.

The cost for the cameras and software to operate them came in at $765,991.49. It's an expenditure that Restaino says would have been impossible to make without the American Rescue Plan funding.

To date, the city has spent more than $9 million of the $57 million allocated to the Falls as part of the American Rescue Plan, with $48.1 million still earmarked toward specific needs in the city. In an update on the city's ARP spending, the mayor looked to outline how the federal dollars were being used.

Restaino said that city officials had worked to identify needs throughout the city where ARP funding would be the most beneficial. The city administration conducted five community meetings to establish funding priorities.

"This money belongs to everyone in the city of Niagara Falls," Restaino said. "It's to be used in ways that will be the most beneficial to our community as a whole."

The meetings led the city to identify six key areas in need of funding: community, public safety, city-owned buildings, business, minority and women owned business enterprises (MWBE), city operations and reimbursement for losses in the 2020 city budget.

A spending plan, proposed by the mayor was approved by the Falls City Council on Dec. 20. By January, the spending was underway.

In addition to the body cams, just over $1 million dollars will be used to replace in-vehicle and portable radios for every police officer. The NFPD is also spending a little over $1 million to replace vehicles in its dilapidated fleet.

Falls firefighters have begun to receive new air pack regulators, thermal imaging cameras and auto external defibrillators. Almost $185,000 in purchases that the mayor said would not have been made without the ARP funds.

Total expenditures for public safety top $3 million.

The city has begun spending almost $144,000 to make repairs to city-owned buildings. The largest expenditure is $99,431 for a reverse osmosis filtration systems for the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion.

An additional $44,000 will pay for what are described as needed window replacements and HVAC upgrades at the Bollier Avenue Fire Station.

The Rescue Plan funding will provide $3 million in grants, through the city's NFC Development Corporation, for MWBE grants. The roll-out of that program as well as a security camera initiative for businesses is ongoing.

Rescue plan money will provide over $78,000 in Covid-related reimbursements to the city budget and pay more than $74,000 to consultants tasked with upgrading the city's antiquated IT technology.

Community spending will top $2.7 million, with funds allocated to fix the Center Court pool, takeover and improve the City Market, undertake more demolitions of distressed properties and provide matching funds for a state Department of Transportation rebuild of Military Road from Niagara Falls Boulevard to Cayuga Drive.

"For the first time in decades, Niagara Falls is finally getting a much-needed financial boost," Restaino said. "This federal funding is a game-changer for our city and residents."

The mayor also expressed appreciation to Congressman Brian Higgins (D- Buffalo/Niagara Falls) for his work crafting the American Rescue Plan.

"The American Rescue Plan provided critical funding to not only help communities address the immediate needs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also recover and reemerge stronger than before," Higgins said. "Thanks to this federal investment, Niagara Falls is addressing the needs of the community, improving public safety measures, building the local economy, and making the city a better place to live for its residents. We look forward to seeing how this funding continues to uplift the Niagara Falls community."

© 2022 the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.