Police Body Camera Testing Continues in Schenectady, N.Y.

Technology from several vendors is being tested in the field before the department makes its selection.

by Paul Nelson, Times Union / August 29, 2018
David Kidd/Government Technology

(TNS) — SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Patrol officers and their commanders on the streets in the Electric City will be responding to emergency calls with body worn cameras in a few months.

Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber said Tuesday that 18 patrol officers and sergeants over the past five weeks volunteered to test body camera models and related equipment and hardware from two companies before critiquing the the systems.

As part of the second phase of testing and training, the department will soon repeat the process for two other vendors.

Once that's done sometime in late September, the department will again solicit feedback from the officers, report their findings back to a steering committee made up of city, police, civil liberties, and community members, before selecting one of the vendors.

"The whole process has been very productive," said Seber, who has been overseeing the initiative.

He declined to identify the four companies but said police brass will be assessing everything from the quality and clarity of the video and audio.

The officers will also be taught how to properly tag or catalog the video with among other things an incident number based on the severity of the alleged crime, said the assistant police chief.

Additionally, officers will be required to download, store, and back up recordings.

"A lot of that is for retention purposes because by law we have to retain this data for a period of time depending on the nature of the crime," Seber added.

He said he's hopeful that by early 2019, the department can start deploying the roughly 110 body cameras in peace meal fashion to between 10 to 15 officers a week.

"The reason we're doing it that way is because we want each officer to really have a while on training," said Seber, adding that staggered approach is modeled after what other larger police forces have done.

He said the department already has a draft of governing the use of the body cameras in place that will likely need to be fine tuned.

"There are things that they (police) do on a daily basis that people don't realize and I think this will give a better perspective as to what their job entails and the professionalism that they demonstrate every day," said Seber.

On Tuesday, Public Defender Stephen Signore, who is part of the roughly 15-member steering committee, described the cameras as the "next evolution in law enforcement" and is another tool to enhance transparency.

Angelicia Morris, executive director of the county Human Rights Commission, said body worn cameras are a lens into police interaction with the public.

"Some communities, particularly communities of color, have legitimate concerns about being overly surveilled, said Morris, who is black and lives in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood, adding the committee "will monitor this issue and ensure officers aren't abusing access to video to tailor their statements, interviews, and reports to the footage."

The devices will not remain on at all times.

For example, if the officer is dealing with the victim of a sexual assault, that they may not use the camera.

Last year, city leaders approved a $165,000 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to help pay for the project, which the city had 18 months to match.

The city also earmarked $60,000 in the 2018 budget to pay for network servers that will be needed to store and back up the recordings from the body cameras. The department will likely have to hire a few people to manage the program.

Last year, nearly a dozen Albany police officers from the department's Central Station on Western Avenue began wearing body cameras that will turn on during calls for service and street encounters.

Most video will only be saved for 180 days, while footage of arrests, use of force and episodes involved in citizen complaints will be saved indefinitely according to the department's body cam policy.

©2018 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.