One might say Ballwin’s new Chief of Police, Doug Schaeffler, hit the ground running at the year’s first Board of Aldermen meeting on Jan. 13.
Schaeffler was undoubtedly the featured speaker of the night, presenting a pair of staff reports that led to the evening’s greatest amount of conversation and unanimous passage of two items by the aldermen present. Frank Fleming [Ward 3] was the only alderman absent from the proceedings.
Schaeffler’s first order of business was to ensure that the police department’s vehicles would be running well and in full force as the new decade begins. He asked the board to approve the purchase of four Dodge Durango SUVs from Lou Fusz Dodge. The purchase price of $119,872 is within the $124,000 previously budgeted from the General Fund. That bid barely bested ones given by two other prominent area dealers. However, Schaeffler asked the city to not drag its feet by opening up the process to a bidding war.
“If we did try to see if they wanted to rebid it, we’re going to spend more money on the advertising than we would probably save in the long run,” Schaeffler said. “Additionally, that would delay our purchase by at least another 60 days, and it’s already a 90- to 120-day delay in getting the vehicles.”
Alderman Michael Finley [Ward 1] questioned if all the remaining sedans would ultimately be replaced by Durango SUVs. Schaeffler responded in the affirmative.
“We’re looking forward to not having any more sedans as marked vehicles,” Schaeffler said. “They’re just too small. This would replace all but one, so it gets us really close to where we want to be. “Actually, the two Dodges we purchased a few months ago are still in the lot waiting for all the equipment to come in. So, we’re really close to removing all the sedans as marked vehicles. We certainly need the SUVs because of the amount of equipment we’re loading up into them.”
Alderman Kevin Roach [Ward 2] asked if the department had any feedback from other agencies regarding the comfort level of the Durango SUVs for officers.
Schaeffler responded, “They’re extremely comfortable. We spoke to Chesterfield. They have a few. I got great reports from them. They love these things. They’re not as big as the Tahoe, obviously, and we love the Tahoe but there’s a huge expense going with that vehicle.”
Schaeffler noted that the Durango comes in cheaper than the Explorer but with the same size interior.
“I think it’s a great alternative,” he said.
Without any break from the podium, Schaeffler moved to the second consent item – body cameras. Considering all the legal issues that have surrounded the topic in recent years, the ensuing questions and comments were of a far more serious nature.
“Additionally, we’re looking forward to the purchase and implementation of our body-worn camera system,” Schaeffler said. “This system is a single-source purchase because we currently have a similar system with the same company, Watch Guard, in the vehicles for the vehicle-mounted cameras. This would be a platform to go along with those cameras, and we’re looking to stay within the budget for those as well.”
The program in question is expected to enhance the current in-car system. Schaeffler’s proposal states that $37,000 has been budgeted from the Asset Forfeiture Fund. The system itself will cost $36,502 plus minimal additional dollars for the individual mounting brackets.
During discussion on this item, Alderman Mark Stallmann [Ward 2] questioned how the cameras would be configured and expressed concerns regarding consistency in turning on and off the car and body cameras.
Schaeffler said the system can be configured a number of ways, but noted that it was his understanding that they’re not going to work completely dependent on each other.
“There are certain circumstances and situations when the car cam will be turned on automatically,” Schaeffler said. “In those situations, the officer will not be able to turn them off. … There’s a whole program in the back end that I don’t really understand. But we really want [the cameras] to work in unison because the advantage is you can see the same situation from different angles. There’s going to be a lot of training that goes into this and some policy writing.”