Phoenix budget battle: Body cameras or more police?

Phoenix’s proposed budget includes $11.4 million to equip every patrol officer in the Police Department with a body-worn camera to track interactions with the public, from routine traffic stops to homicide investigations.

But would that money be better spent hiring more officers or giving officers better pay and benefits? Or should the city try to balance all three demands at once?

That’s a debate among city leaders as they negotiate the city’s $1.22 billion budget for the next fiscal year. City Manager Ed Zuercher wants to set aside $11.4 million to phase in a full body-camera program over the next three years.

Some residents and council members have called for the city to instead use the money to speed up police hiring or restore pay and benefits for officers who took cuts the past six years. The money could pay for about 100 more officers for one year.

“I would lay odds the majority of the public would rather see our officers better compensated with that $11 million, or more officers,” Councilman Sal DiCiccio said at a recent meeting.

Mayor Greg Stanton and other council members have insisted the city can do all of the above: hire more police, restore officer pay and deploy more body cameras.

Phoenix already has a plan to hire more than 500 new officers by 2019, including about 300 this year and 145 in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The city also recently announced that the police union has tentatively agreed to a labor contract that would restore their pay and benefits over three years.

“I think it’s a false choice to say, ‘Body cameras or police officers,'” Zuercher said in an interview. “This budget shows you we can do both.”

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