Police body cams on the docket for Fall Town Meeting

Sep 14, 2021

Fall Town Meeting members will likely cast their votes from home again.

Proposed warrant articles include the approval of body cameras for the police department, additions to dias landing, and pay increases for town lifeguards.

Citing rising Covid transmission and relatively low vaccination rates, Town Meeting moderator Melissa Haskell suggested to the Select Board on Monday that the annual meeting set for Oct. 19 be held on Zoom.

The request, she said, came after consulting with Public Health Director Chris Michaud.

“At the end of our last Town Meeting, I didn’t think I was going to be before you again making a request to have our Fall Town Meeting virtual,” she said. “But I think that the circumstances we find ourselves [in] with the Delta variant warrant this request.”

Select Board Vice Chair David Tatelbaum agreed.

“I’ve always been in favor of getting back as fast as we can,” he said. “If [Michaud] says no, then I say no.”

A final decision will be made at the board’s upcoming meeting on Sept. 27. Under state law, the town moderator must draft a letter for the Select Board to approve and send to the Secretary of State’s office.

At the same meeting the Select Board also reviewed a draft warrant of 11 articles.

The Select Board is still awaiting recommendations from other town departments before the warrant is finalized. Once approved, a copy of the Town Meeting warrant will be available on the town website at town.dartmouth.ma.us.

Here’s a look at some of what’s coming up next month.

Body cameras for police

Town Meeting members will be asked to approve a contract between the Dartmouth Police Department and a body camera vendor for its officers to use the equipment.

Dartmouth is among the first communities in the South Coast to test out the cameras for its police department.

In July, police tested the cameras as a trial run for potential permanent use. Sgt. Joe Rapoza, who oversaw the trial, previously noted that the two officers who wore the cameras had positive experiences.

“This seems like it’s a good investment,” Rapoza said at the time. “It’s going to reduce our liability.”

Videos from the cameras are uploaded into the cloud and stored by the company that provides the body cameras.

Videos can also help the department “dismiss claims that are frivolous,” he said. 

Officers can shut off their cameras during sensitive situations, such as sexual assault responses or certain medical calls, Rapoza said, but that would be a rare occurrence and a reason for shutting it down would have to be specified. 

No money amount was discussed at Monday’s meeting.

Additions at Dias Landing

The Waterways Commission is asking to transfer money from its enterprise fund to match a grant for proposed additions to Dias landing.

Last year, the town was awarded a $64,000 grant from the state’s Seaport Economic Council for a feasibility study on improving the town-owned boat launch on Gulf Road.

The feasibility study is the result of Dartmouth’s approval in May 2019 of the Padanaram Harbor Plan. 

One of the recommendations in the final plan was to determine the feasibility of creating additional boating facilities and secure in-water and landside storage options for watercraft and kayaks. 

Project costs were estimated at between $150,000 and $250,000 for construction and other related maintenance expenses, Steve Bliven from the Urban Harbors Institute noted at a July 27 Waterways Commission meeting.

A final design is expected to be prepared in 2022 with construction estimated to be completed by 2023.

Soccer field negotiations

The Department of Parks and Recreation is seeking to negotiate lease terms for soccer fields in town.

The agreements would be for “no longer than ten years,” Select Board Chair Shawn McDonald noted.

Town officials expressed some concern with the specifics of the article, with board members wanting terms on par with other lease negotiations. Other properties, such as the town-owned McBratney parcel on Slocum Road, were approved to be leased for 30 years.

“Everybody should be equal,” McDonald said.

Bump in lifeguard pay

Town meeting members will be asked to increase the hourly lifeguard pay rates to be comparable with those of surrounding communities.

The state currently pays $17 an hour for lifeguards, while Dartmouth’s rate is $15.50 per hour.

This summer saw what Parks and Recreation Director Tim Lancaster said was “the lowest amount of lifeguards in my 21 years here.”

Even a slight increase in hourly rate appeals to teens, Lancaster said, as they look to put gas in their cars and save for college. 

“Even if it’s just five cents more an hour, they’re going to go for it,” he said.