Council talks new provisions including body cams, paratransit, backyard chickens

City+Council+Aldermen+Carolyn+Morris+reads+a+letter+out+loud+during+DeKalb%27s+City+Council+meeting+on+Monday%2C+July+13th.%0A

Patrick Murphy

City Council Aldermen Carolyn Morris reads a letter out loud during DeKalb's City Council meeting on Monday, July 13th.

Kierra Frazier, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — The DeKalb Police Department is one step closer to using body cameras after a resolution was unanimously passed at Monday night’s meeting for a five-year agreement with Axon Enterprises.

The DeKalb Police Department started testing three different body cameras in January for four to five weeks at a time, according to the Sept. 14 agenda. Five officers from different ranks within the department tried the body cameras and decided that Axon body-worn cameras worked the best. 

The department chose Axon because their products had no battery issues, can easily connect to the department’s computer system and cell phones and includes video redaction software which can be used for FOIA requests, according to the agenda. 

For five years, the cost of Axon body cameras would cost $415,086, according to the agenda. 

Prior to testing the cameras, the DeKalb Police Department NIU’s Masters of Public Administration Department created an online citizen survey about body-worn cameras and how residents feel about them. A majority of the 260 respondents were supportive of the body cameras, according to the agenda. 

Commander Craig Woodruff said Axon was a better choice despite it being more expensive than its competitors. Axon is $90,000 more with the competitor Panasonic iPro Sensing Solutions because it has a camera replacement program. 

“Axon body cams are simply the best,” Woodruff said. “Most of the major cities that have body cams are using them. If you Google it, you will see that pretty much Axon has all of the big contracts, all the small contracts, they’re simply the best product now.” 

City Manager Bill Nicklas said body cameras for police officers have been one of the main demands laid out by protesters from over the summer. Nicklas said body cameras would be purchased this year so then officers can be trained on them by the next fiscal year. 

The body cameras will still need to be approved in the city budget for 2021.

“It’s been found to be a way for everyone to be accountable, the people who are in front of the camera and the people who are wearing the camera,” Nicklas said. 

Transdev as New Paratransit

After 38 years of partnership between Voluntary Action Center and the city, DeKalb will end its contract with VAC for paratransit services on Dec. 31 and begin to operate with Transdev. 

City Council passed a resolution 7-0, with a recusal from Third Ward Alderperson Tracy Smith, to start a contract with Transdev. 

VAC currently provides door-to-door paratransit services for residents who are unable to drive  in DeKalb County, as well as routes serving DeKalb, Sycamore and Kishwaukee College. 

Transdev maintained an operating contract with NIU from 1971 through 2018, providing fixed route and paratransit services on campus and throughout the community, according to the agenda. On Jan. 1, 2019, Transdev began a transit service provider agreement with DeKalb to provide fixed-route services within the city.

Ellen Rogers, executive director of VAC, said she was disappointed when she found out that VAC wasn’t recommended as the city’s paratransit. Rogers said Transdev wouldn’t be able to manage another contract with the city because of their response to COVID-19 and challenges with staffing issues and reduced hours. 

“These are the reasons why we’re asking you to consider extending VAC’s contract to ensure that transact is positioned both to meet its current contract and to also have the infrastructure in place to meet the paratransit contract.”  

W.C. Pihl, senior vice president of business development at Transdev, said when the pandemic hit, a lot of the part-time bus drivers were NIU students who left town, which resulted in some staffing challenges.

“We, of course, corrected that when it comes to the NIU services with recruiting full-time folks from this community, more of those folks than the student makeup is a large part of the population,” Pihl said. 

Funding for the city’s transit services is provided through the Federal Transit Administration and the Illinois Downstate Operating Assistance Program. The city is required to accept the lowest bidder for a contract. 

The lowest bidder was Transdev at $8,466,817 and VAC was the highest at $9,878,367, according to the agenda. 

VAC will continue its services in rural DeKalb and its Meal on Wheels program, which provides hot meals to seniors and individuals with disabilities, in the city. 

Nicklas said VAC has been considered a highly regarded service for the past 38 years in DeKalb but the city must comply with those who are providing the funding. 

“As a longtime supporter of VAC; it’s very hard for me to make this recommendation,” Nicklas said. “I did recommend on the basis of the bid process and the integrity of the bid process.” 

Mayor Jerry Smith said he has faith in Transdev and trusts the vetting process done by city staff when they considered the bidders. 

“Our hands pretty much are tied in terms of what our ability is to do in this particular instance,” Smith said. “I too have been a supporter of the Voluntary Action Center for so many years.” 

Backyard Chickens Referendum

A resolution to include a referendum on the April ballot to allow residents to have backyard chickens in the DeKalb passed unanimously at Monday night’s meeting. 

At the Aug. 24 City Council meeting, council members had a back-and-forth debate on the issue and a total of 12 letters from residents were sent and read during the meeting in support of the consideration. 

In the drafted referendum residents would have to apply for a permit and pay up to $84 which includes a permit filing fee, plan review and site visit and inspection, according to the agenda. 

Smith said council members are just approving a referendum to see what the residents want, not actual referendum results. 

“We’re just saying that we feel that the City of DeKalb should put on the ballot, April 6 2021, a referendum asking folks if they want to approve the use of urban chickens,” Smith said.