The projected 2018-19 budget for the City of Sulphur includes $6.1 million for the police department.
Chief Lewis Coats told the Daily News in a recent interview that the funding will cover operating costs, salaries, benefits, new equipment, vehicles, and infrastructure updates. New equipment and vehicles purchases will account for $108,000 of the budget.
Included in the equipment will be upgraded body cameras. The department first began using body cameras in 2016.
Chief Coats explained that for more than 10 years, L3 brand cameras have been installed in police units. “It’s a good quality, user-friendly system that has served us well,” he said. In 2015, L3 offered free body cameras with the purchase of their unit models.
“They also promised to offer a better quality body camera in the future,” Coats said. “We acquired 10 of the ‘free’ body cameras and began using them. Unfortunately, the quality of the camera housing wasn’t ruggedized and they didn’t last as long as expected.”
Coats said the department had to wait nearly a year before the newer, ruggedized version of the body cams was released. “Unfortunately, the cost factor was more than we felt they were worth,” he said. “That is reason for the delay in that (ruggedized body cams) purchase.”
Currently only four or five of the original 10 body cams work. The number of officers using them varies and use is not currently mandatory. “The officers were asked to use them on all calls,” said Coats. “These were for testing and evaluation so we could have a baseline for future expectations and abilities of body cameras.”
The chief said he made the initial decision to accept the body cameras from L3 for transparency purposes. “These cameras will record an incident from the officers’ point of view rather than from the dashboard of their police car,” he explained.
“Experience with our unit cameras tells us that it assists the officer in many areas of their job. From evidence collection to courtroom testimony the cameras will benefit the integrity of any criminal case. Complaints against officers will either be validated or determined unfounded after viewing the body camera footage. And, officers can write a more detailed report by reviewing their body camera recording,” Coats said.
The department will continue to use the L3 unit cameras in conjunction with the body cams.
Coats said new legislation is the impetus for renovations to the jailer’s office and adjacent rooms at the city jail. Effective this July, the Raise the Age Act (SB324), directs law enforcement to treat 17-year-old offenders as juveniles and keep them separate from the adult population.
“Unfortunately, the number of arrested 17-year-olds has been on the increase,” Coats said. “With that, the single room that we currently use is not sufficient. We plan to redesign and expand the jailer’s office, which will open up an area that will be used for a juvenile holding area.”
Currently, in Louisiana, 17-year-olds are considered adults and are housed with the general inmate population.
Other structural updates will include:
• replacing floor coverings in the administrative offices and narcotics building.
• removing wallpaper in the administrative wing and paining the walls.
• removing wood paneling in the narcotics building and inspecting it to see if a recent termite issue has been resolved, the covering the walls with sheetrock.
“Basically, it’s updating two work areas that haven’t been touched in more than 20 years,” said Coats.
Also in the proposed budget is the conversion of an existing 34-foot camper, that, when not being used to haul toys around, has been in storage for 10 years, and the purchase of three other vehicles to replace units with high mileage and/or maintenance issues.
There is a plan to convert the camper to a mobile command and use it for festivals and events as an operations center. Coats also plans to purchase an F250 pickup to pull it.
“Unfortunately, we have had to rely on the availability of other city department trucks to move the trailer,” he said. “The purchase of the 3/4-ton truck will give us the freedom to move it anytime we need to move it.”
Other vehicle purchases include units for the narcotics and property crimes detective. These two units will be purchased with monies from the Drug Asset Forfeiture Fund and will cost the taxpayers nothing. Another unit will also be purchased.
The proposed budget will be voted on by the Sulphur City Council at their next regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. May, 14, in Council Chambers at 500 N. Huntington St.