Portsmouth, N.H., Police Commission Rejects Body Cameras

The commission voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of the citizen subcommittee “not to adopt body cameras at this time.” Police officials described their report as a “thorough, very detailed analysis.”

by Jeff McMenemy, Portsmouth Herald / September 25, 2019
A police officer wears a body camera. Wikipedia

(TNS) — The Portsmouth, N.H., Police Commission decided against having the city's police officers wear body cameras after hearing from a subcommittee that conducted nine months of research on the issue.

The commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to accept the recommendation of the citizen subcommittee "not to adopt body cameras at this time."

Police Commissioner Stefany Shaheen described the subcommittee's report to the commission as a "thorough very detailed analysis."

She stated the commission's job is to "evaluate and assess the resources needed to ensure this community is as safe as it can possibly be."

The department's two biggest needs are improvements to the station and the "IT infrastructure," Shaheen said.

"This isn't the moment for a number of reasons," Shaheen said to adopt body cameras.

Police Commissioner and City Council candidate Jim Splaine agreed, calling the subcommittee's report a "balanced review" of the issue.

He has supported the idea of police using body cameras "for years," he said Tuesday, and still believes "there is value to having body cams in the police department."

But he thinks the department's biggest priority need is improving "the IT structure of the city, not just the needs of police department."

"That is where the priority right now has to be for any available dollars," he added.

Splaine also said he has supported "for a good part of 20 years having a new police station."

"The police department right now is squeezed into the old footprint of the hospital," Splaine said. "That limits the ... ability of police officers to be able to interact the way that they should."

He added he was "very pleased to support the work of the committee."

"Bottom line if we did not respect the results of a citizen committee on this issue, that's good reason why citizens may in the future, may not want to serve on a committee," Splaine said.

Police Commission Chair Joe Onosko stated he came "in an Agnostic" on the issue of police wearing body cameras.

But ended up being "surprised how strongly I am opposed to body cameras in Portsmouth," he said.

"We don't have any bias policing complaints or undue force complaints in this town. They just aren't occurring," Onosko said Tuesday. "For us to spend in a seven to nine year period a million dollars to put body cameras on our officers when we don't have a problem ... would be a complete waste of money."

He added he was "shocked to hear we only have $68,000 a year budgeted for officer training."

"In the last couple of years we've had 10 incidents where officers have been faced with weapons and they did not fire, they did not fire, it's incredible," he said. "That's from training."

"Until we can come up with more monies and have a reason to do it, I just don't get it," he added.

Onosko also credited the leadership of Police Chief Robert Merner.

"I have full faith in this chief's ability to make sure we have officers who engage in community policing and really care for this community," he said. "I think the chief's got us going in the direction."

Merner stated when he was hired by the Seattle Police before serving in Portsmouth he was brought there because "the Seattle Police Department had been put under a court ordered federal consent decree."

"I look at it from being a 38-year practitioner in this business that's there's a number of ways you get body cams. One is if you need them, one is if you earn them," Merner said, "I think the Seattle Police earned them."

That's because there were an excessive amount of complaints concerning excessive use of force and police bias, Merner said.

©2019 Portsmouth Herald, N.H. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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