The city of Port St. Joe will be applying for grant funding to supply the Port St. Joe Police Department with body camera technology, after Police Chief Jake Richards presented the opportunity to city commissioners at their Jan. 3 meeting.
The move represents the city’s first attempt to secure the technology in several years.
“With your permission, I’d like to go out for that grant,” Chief of Police Jake Richards asked the commissioners. “I was on the fence about it, and we got some complaints last week, and I think within five minutes we could have relinquished these complaints if we had body mounted cameras.”
Body cameras are desired by the police department, according to Richards, who says they could prove useful in determining what happened in a given situation.
“As an officer, wearing a body cam, not only does it make me do better since I know everything is on video, it also makes dealing with people easier, since you can say ‘hey, you’re being recorded,’” he said at a city meeting last year. “I think it works for both sides, and I’m all for it if we can figure out a way to afford it.”
At one time, all city officers were equipped with body cameras.
But the PSJPD had to suspend using the technology when information storage and public records request costs became too high in 2015.
Richards said he first began looking into potential grant funding after the issue of lacking cameras was raised by a citizen at a city meeting in July, 2022.
At that meeting, Marquita Thompkins, a Port St. Joe resident, voiced that she felt without body cameras, the police department lacked the available resources to be truly transparent.
“I just want to ask that our officers, our law enforcement officers, be equipped with body cameras, just for transparency,” she requested of the city commissioners. Her request was followed by about 20 minutes of discussion that ended with RIchards agreeing to look further into funding options.
The grant the city is applying for is offered to small rural and tribal governments by the state. It is a 50-50 grant, in-kind, meaning the city would be responsible for making up the other half of the funding.
“Our 50% can be in kind. So basically, any training I’ve done already, that will count off on that in kind,” said Richards. “Anything that we would do, that we haven’t done, that we would not have done but for the body cameras, can come off of that grant.”
“I’m applying for the grant, with your permission, if you give me permission today, for the full $6,045 for the body worn cameras,” he told the commissioners on Jan. 3.
Should the police department be unable to make up the full amount of the grant’s match with in kind contributions, Richards said they have the $6,045 in their budget for this fiscal year, after receiving grant funding for dashboard cameras they had initially intended to purchase with city funds.
According to Richards, the grant would cover the $43 per month peer camera cost for storage through the same company that will be operating the PSJPD’s new dashboard cameras.
“I think through officer training, IT work and the work that I’m gonna have to do writing policies and everything, we can just about match this $6,045,” said Richards. “I think we’ll come close to it, but I do have the money budgeted that we could actually just pay this off if we wanted to, our half of the grant.”
An exact timeline for when the city will hear back about the grant application is unclear, but typically it takes several months to apply for and be awarded state grant funding.