(TNS) -- NEW HAVEN — Around 30 police officers, clad in navy blue uniforms, sat in a classroom-type setting Wednesday morning, being quizzed. Those men and women were the first officers to receive training for the recently approved body-worn cameras.
Chief Anthony Campbell said he believes both the community and the members of the police department will have greater safety, accountability and transparency, thanks to the body-worn cameras, describing Wednesday as the day where both sides can claim victory.
“We believe our officers are doing the right thing, but [the cameras] are going to help with transparency,” Assistant Chief Racheal Cain added. “We are a community-based agency, and it’s important for the public to be able to see exactly what the officers are doing, and this will help with that.”
However, a recent study involving Metropolitan Police Department officers in Washington, D.C. found that body-worn cameras had no measurable effect on police discretion, fueling renewed skepticism about whether the equipment is actually fostering accountability and transparency in law enforcement.
Despite any uncertainty, about one-third of the nation’s 18,000 police agencies have embraced or are testing body cameras, and many neighboring departments in Connecticut have employed them for years. Branford was one of the first departments in the state to use body cameras, buying them as “inexpensive alternatives” to dashboard cameras about 10 years ago. The department has since equipped its fleet with dashboard cameras that sync with the body cameras, creating a visual and audio account of every encounter.
While the Hartford Police Department did purchase body cameras for its officers in 2012, the program was taken offline after only several weeks due to a labor dispute with the police union. The equipment now resides in storage.
Following the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Jayson Negron by a Bridgeport police officer in May, there was a push by some for the department to outfit its officers with body and dashboard cameras after cell phone video of the incident surfaced. Despite the city obtaining the money to buy the equipment, it lacked the funding to securely store the footage.
Mayor Toni Harp said the idea came several years ago when public discussion turned to the use of body cameras and police transparency and community trust.
“What appeared to be an increasing number of controversial police actions across the nation begged a better sense of what really transpired and the ability to reconstruct what really happened in these cases,” Harp said. “So at that time, we arranged for New Haven to host a pilot program to evaluate the potential for body cameras in Connecticut.”
After several years of trying to get the program off the ground, the Board of Police Commissioners unanimously voted Oct. 17 to approve the use of body cameras after the police department received a grant in May to purchase 800 body-worn cameras. However, union president Craig Miller said he believes members of the board approved the policy without having adequate time to review it.
“So everything got pushed on and off, and so in the meantime, we’re still negotiating, and then it came to the point where they said, ‘we have a deadline, and we’re just [going to] present it to Board of Police Commissioners,’ who received it like the same night, 30 minutes prior to the meeting, and approved it,” he said.
Cain responded by explaining that the department followed the model created by the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, which was later adopted into state law. She added that the day before the meeting, the members of the Board of Police Commissioners received a copy of the draft policy, which was identical to the policy presented at the meeting.
The cost for the entire program, which includes the Axon cameras along with unlimited data storage during the five-year contract, was initially lower, but she said the department added some “necessary” features, bringing the total up to $779,000 for the first year, for which the state will reimburse the department. For each subsequent year, she said it would cost the city approximately $350,000 for unlimited cloud-based storage.
Sgt. Rose Dell said the department currently has more than enough cameras to outfit an entire shift plus extra-duty and overtime officers. During the first launch, Dell explained that each officer will be assigned two cameras: a “hot” camera that officers will wear while on patrol and a “cold” camera that will be in the docks charging and uploading video.
After an officer shoots video, he or she will then place the “hot” camera in the docking station, where the footage will be uploaded to a secure cloud-based storage system. Depending on the type of incident, the footage is stored for at least 90 days. Chief Anthony Campbell added that the footage will be reviewed periodically unless there is some sort of “high-profile” incident.
While only the police headquarters currently has a docking station, they will eventually be available at substations. Cain said the goal is to have the officers be able to upload the footage without taking them out of the field.
“When an officer is on-duty and interacting with public, as part of their law enforcement function, the camera will be recording [both audio and video],” Cain said. “Of course, there are certain times where the law says we can shut the camera off such as interviewing a victim in a hospital setting or if a person does not want to give us information while the camera is on. Obviously, getting the information is more important than having the camera rolling, so in those situations we would be able to shut the camera off.”
Officer Reginald McGlotten, who was part of the pilot program and one of the first officers to receive training on the new equipment, described the initial experience as “weird” and “challenging,” explaining that he had to remember to actually turn the camera on. While he had to get used to wearing the body camera during his regular police duties, he said he eventually got used to it.
“Most importantly, these body cameras are a visual for a more collaborative and interactive community model of community police,” Campbell concluded.
©2017 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.