Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent mayor’s budget adjustment includes police vehicle dash cameras

Mayor Dana Ralph says cameras will provide additional transparency

The city of Kent added body-worn cameras for police officers in 2019, and now Mayor Dana Ralph wants to install in-car cameras on police vehicles.

Ralph proposed the dash cameras as part of her mid-biennial budget adjustment to the 2023-2024 biennial budget.

“The Kent Police Department is on the forefront of transparency and accountability in law enforcement,” Ralph said during her budget presentation Sept. 26 to the City Council. “With funding generated by the newly installed (additional) red-light cameras, in-car cameras will be installed in patrol vehicles resulting in additional transparency.

“These cameras will enhance officer and public safety as well as provide greater investigative abilities for filing cases.”

Ralph promised during her mayoral campaign in 2017 that she would propose to outfit officers with body cameras, a program paid for by revenue from red-light cameras

Ralph said the in-car cameras will increase the workload for the city’s legal department and city clerks’s office, so the budget adjustment includes the addition of a prosecutor and public disclosure analyst, which will start mid-year in 2024 when the cameras are expected to be ready to go.

The in-car camera program in 2024 will cost $250,000 for equipment, $96,850 for a prosecutor and $66,910 for a public disclosure analyst, according to city budget documents.

The budget also includes restoring the vacant deputy police chief position at an annual cost of $348,780. Police Chief Rafael Padilla confirmed in August the July promotion of Assistant Chief Matt Stansfield to deputy chief. The position had been vacant for about 12 years.

“This will provide a much-needed balance of workload at the executive level of the police department, ensuring adequate resources are dedicated to the oversight, management, planning and implementation of police operations,” Ralph said.

The mayor also proposed $100,000 for investigative technology in the police department to assist detective and traffic units. The technology will allow for real-time viewing of footage from the department’s drones, which Ralph said will result in greater situational awareness for major accidents, faster review times by detectives and automatic transmission of video footage for storage and use.

Ralph didn’t propose hiring any additional police officers. The department is fully staffed at the 166 officers allowed under the current budget. Padilla has said the department needs about 30 more officers to patrol a city with more than 130,000 people.

The mayor, however, told the council that city leaders will work with the state Legislature to pass laws that would allow cities access to local funding options to add police officers. Ralph didn’t specify any options, but a proposed bill last session that failed to gather much interest would have allowed cities to use a portion of the current sales tax to pay for officers.

General fund total

The proposed general fund budget for 2024 is $121.8 million, up about $2.54 million (2.1%) from the adopted 2023-2024 budget. Higher tax revenues of $4.6 million will cover the increases and allow the city to use only $1 million from its general fund balance instead of the $3.1 million initially planned.

Sales tax revenue is expected to increase by $1 million over the initial 2024 budget and utility taxes by $1.4 million, according to city documents, the highest jump of the city’s tax revenue sources.

Next steps

The council had a budget workshop Oct. 3 and another one scheduled for Oct. 17. The budget is scheduled to go to the council’s Committee of the Whole on Nov. 7 for review and to the regular council meeting Nov. 21 for adoption.

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