Williamsport, Pa. -- Williamsport Fire Chief Mark Killian outlined the various apparatus that need to be replaced to City Council’s finance Committee on Tuesday.

“The apparatus is the largest city expense,” said Killian, describing the four front-line vehicles that are due for replacement. Tower 1 is a 2011 Pierce, a ladder truck, that typically has a life of 10-12 years.

Killian also said other models on their fleet include a 2016 KME, a 2000 Pierce, and a 1998 E-One. 

A good longterm approach to replacing these apparatus is to avoid taking the low bid on lesser quality equipment, something they’ve done in the past, and instead build a “modern, safe, and reliable fleet,” said Killian.

Williamsport Bureau of Police Chief Damon Hagan is requesting funding for new software, radios, and body cams to replace old equipment and increase safety, both for the officers and the public, Hagan said at the same meeting Tuesday.

Hagan provided estimates for joining the CRIMEWATCH network, and for purchasing new Motorola 8000 digital radios and body cams that integrate with the city’s current Watchguard camera systems in the patrol cars.

CRIMEWATCH is a website developed as a network in partnership with CRIMEWATCH Technologies. This online tool, including the website and an app that is free to the public, gives users direct access to crime and public safety-related information happening in the community.

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Joining CRIMEWATCH, Hagan said, will help the department communicate with the public and the media quicker, and with more transparency.

According to a presentation by the CRIMEWATCH rep, a one-year contract with onboarding and training costs would be around $6,300. If the department were to accept a three-year deal, the city would see a multi-year discount of approximately $3,500 in savings.

Lycoming County DA Ryan Gardner has so far agreed to contribute 30 percent of the cost, said Hagan, as the departments share resources including officers in various task forces.

While CRIMEWATCH would provide the platform, members of the Williamsport Bureau of Police would still be responsible to upload the information, however, requiring staff management and time. 

Also on the table are new Motorola 8000 radios.

 “Our radios are more than 14 years old,” said Hagan. They’ve replaced a few over the years, but the majority of the equipment was purchased in 2006. The current equipment can not adapt to the change to digital coming “some years from now,” said Hagan, and those radios were given a life of seven or fewer years.

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The Motorola 8000, considered “a critical infrastructure tool” to the force, are the same used by State Police and are estimated to last between 10 and 15 years. Hagan said they can penetrate further into buildings and basements, they’ll work with the county’s new communication system, and be able to have a secure channel that cannot be scanned by the public, dramatically increasing officer safety. 

The equipment will come with a price tag of about $200,000 per year for four years, according to Hagan.

Another tool in Hagan’s proposed equipment purchase are body cameras. Currently each patrol car has a Watchguard camera installed. Body cams would sync with the car cams, offering a split screen from the car view and the officer’s view.

“This sort of evidence,” said Hagan, “what they said, when they said it, when a weapon was pulled, is valuable.” Having evidence like that would save hundreds of thousands to millions further down the justice system line.

There is a nationwide cry for an increase in police accountability, and both Hagan and Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter are pushing for transparency and accountability--something these body cams would help provide, Hagan said. Footage can address false complaints made against police as well as prove when an officer is doing something wrong. 

Grant funding may be available for body cams, and Hagan said he is aware of the limits within the city's general fund.  

“This is all necessary,” agreed Councilwoman Bonnie Katz. “But it all boils down to funding. We need to find the financing for this,” she said.

Councilman Adam Yoder met the spending requests with more caution, noting the difficulty in collaboration with the 2021 budget. The city would have to figure “creative ways” of financing all of these needs.

The finance committee did vote in favor of bringing both the fire and police requests to City Council with support.

Aaron James contributed to this report.

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