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Council votes against bodycam ordinance

By Gabriella Brown, 

An ordinance with new requirements for Westover Police body camera footage was voted down with only one councilman voting for it.

The ordinance, proposed by Councilman Ralph Mullins, outlined new requirements for when Westover Police officers would be required to activate or deactivate body cameras. According to the ordinance, the purpose would be to “increase accountability and evidence for law enforcement and the residents of the city by providing body-worn cameras to all city police officers while on patrol.” 

The ordinance outlined penalties for officers who violate the rules, requirements for investigations of the footage and the need for a record of all body camera footage obtained.

The motion to pass the bill was seconded. During the discussion following the motion, Police Chief Richard Panico said the ordinance could create complications for officers on duty.

“You can’t put a policy in place for every possible thing that could happen,” Panico said.

Mullins voted for the ordinance, five voted against it and one abstained from voting.

Mullins said it was very discouraging that, despite the discussion, the majority voted down the ordinance.

“I thought it was important to have an ordinance, because an ordinance puts some teeth into it,” he said. “The policies that I read there were no punitive actions for violating the policy. I felt it was important to have an ordinance there for the protection of everyone.” 

State Delegate Danielle Walker said she was disappointed with Westover Council for the decision.

“I was so excited about the bodycam ordinance,” Walker said. “Not only would we be protecting the city … we would be protecting those on the front lines.” 

During the meeting, Westover Mayor Dave Johnson addressed concerns voiced by citizens during the council’s Aug. 3 meeting. Several residents spoke out about body camera footage released in 2019, showing Westover Police officer Zachary Fecsko allegedly using excessive force during the arrest of a Westover resident.

The mayor said he would not comment on the facts of the incident or a pending lawsuit.

“Westover Police Department does not deserve to be attacked with half-truths and innuendo,” Johnson said. “Our department has a long and continuing record of quality professional police service.” 

He said since January, Westover Police officers have made 1,934 citizen contacts and only four complaints have been received, none of which contained allegations of unlawful or discriminatory behavior.

 Also during Monday’s meeting, prior to the public portion, Johnson said he would not allow members of council to respond to citizens’ comments.

“Nothing has changed, [we] give you two minutes, we aren’t going to do a back-and-forth. That is the protocol we have been using,” Johnson said.

Mullins said he, other councilors and the mayor have responded to public comments previously.

“That is not a steadfast rule,” Mullins said.

Mullins attempted to respond to a citizen’s concerns at the last meeting, but was cutoff by Johnson. On Monday, Mullins said nothing in Westover City Codes and Ordinances or Robert’s Rules of Order, restricts council from responding during the public portion.

The next council meeting will be Sept. 14, due to the Labor Day holiday.

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