(TNS) — SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Ninety Syracuse police officers will soon be outfitted with body-worn cameras on city streets, thanks to a state award that allows the police department to amp up its use of the technology.
The department is finishing up its creation of a policy governing the use of the cameras, and officials hope to have 30 patrol officers wearing the devices during each of the three daily shifts by the end of this year, officials said.
The $300,000 state grant, secured by State Sen. Dave Valesky (D-Oneida), will pay for the launch and operation of the program for a year. City officials, at a Saturday news conference at Onondaga Park, said they continue to seek grant money to fund the use of the cameras in subsequent years.
Members of the public can expect their interactions with patrol officers to be recorded except in certain circumstances.
Police will not record interviews with sexual assault victims, for example, and they won't be recording if they are conducting investigations in sensitive places like bathrooms or locker rooms, said Deputy Police Chief Joe Cecile.
Cecile said police departments in other cities that use the cameras have seen drops in complaints against police and in use of force by officers. In Rialto, Calif., for example, citizen complaints dropped by 88 percent and police use-of-force decreased 59 percent, according to the company that makes the cameras.
"Both of those are huge pluses for us," Cecile said. "If we get drops in those two items, I think this program will be a success."
Cecile said the devices will be helpful in resolving disputes between the public and police, gathering evidence of crimes and showing an officer's perspective in often chaotic situations.
The department currently has 16 officers using body-worn cameras in a pilot program. Cecile said those cameras, made by Vievu, often fell off of officers' chests, so officials opted to use a different model made by Axon, formerly known as Taser International, for the expansion of the program.
Officers are expected to turn on the chest-mounted cameras each time they interact with the public. They will then upload the video as evidence to cloud-based storage called Evidence.com, which is also operated by Axon.
The devices will be on but not recording when officers are on duty until an officer turns on the recording. When an officer presses twice on the center of the device, it records video from 30 seconds beforehand, as well.
Video will be stored on Evidence.com for at least six months for minor instances and indefinitely if it's related to major crimes like homicides, Cecile said.
The public will be able to see the videos after investigations are over, similar to the way police treat other video and photo evidence now, Cecile said.
Cecile said the department is still getting a handle on how to deal with the immense amount of data that will need to be processed and uploaded by officers using the devices. He's not sure yet whether police will need to hire more staff or what additional resources managing all the video will take, he said.
Valesky said Mayor Ben Walsh told him expanding the program was a high priority for the new mayor, so the senator was able to get the $300,000 from the state's Aid and Incentives for Municipalities fund. He said the cameras will help make neighborhoods safer.
Training will begin for 15 officers in October, and additional groups of 15 officers will begin using the program throughout the remainder of the year.
The money allowed the department to buy 110 cameras, 20 of which will be kept as replacements.
The department's body-worn camera will be released to the public before the first group of officers is trained, officials said.
Other Upstate New York departments have been using body-worn cameras for a year or more, including Manlius police, Rochester police and Albany police.
Ranette Releford, administrator for the Citizens Review Board, said the cameras will be an important tool for her agency's review of complaints against officers. She said the board will get access to the video when it becomes part of an internal affairs investigation.
"It will help to gain public trust because everyone will be able to see the incident," she said. "Not everything is in a police statement."
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