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Connecticut Town Considers Police Body Cams, Surveillance

Police body cameras and a comprehensive townwide video surveillance system could soon be coming to Waterford, Conn., with expenditures for both proposals awaiting approval by local gov officials.

by Sten Spinella, The Day / March 3, 2020

(TNS) — Police body cameras and a comprehensive townwide video surveillance system could be coming to Waterford, Conn.

Chief of Police and Information Technology Committee Chairman Brett Mahoney is involved in both initiatives in his two separate capacities. He, along with First Selectman Rob Brule, have said the efforts would improve safety and increased accountability for both citizens and police officers.

Both expenditures have been included in the proposed 2020-21 budget the Board of Selectmen passed on Feb. 18. It now awaits approval by the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting.

If approved, the townwide system and body cameras would be in place sometime in the late fall, Mahoney estimated.

Mahoney said the police department has been interested in implementing body cameras for about three years, but the department waited to ask for them until it seemed likely the estimated $49,000 expenditure would be approved. 

For the $97,000 townwide camera system, the IT Committee has been discussing adding and replacing cameras in municipal buildings and other locations such as local streets since last June, according to meeting minutes

Police body cameras

Mahoney said it is simply time for the department to begin using body cameras to ensure transparency.

"It's 2020, the technology is available, and it's becoming commonplace across the nation," Mahoney said. "I've been in law enforcement for 30 years. I think it's a sad referendum on where we are. But if we don't have video, then we're less believable."

The cameras cost roughly $1,000 apiece. Mahoney wants the department to outfit all 49 officers with one.

Body cameras will allow residents and police to look at an interaction. Footage should act as a check on police "when we do things that we're not supposed to be doing," Mahoney said.

But the cameras can also absolve officers of any wrongdoing if they've been falsely accused.

Mahoney said officers would not have the cameras activated all the time citing considerations for victims, informants and juveniles as reasons why.

"From policing more than 30 years, I think we've lost sight of victims in everything we do, so no, the cameras won't be on all the time," Mahoney said. "They will be on during standard police interactions. We train our officers quite a bit, and we don't get many complaints, so I trust our officers to do the right thing."

Police body cameras became a national issue five years ago following publicized police shootings, such as that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

"The rise of video sharing on social media added to the momentum, and in 2015, the Obama administration handed out more than $23 million in federal grants to help agencies of all sizes purchase them," Pew Charitable Trusts wrote in a January 2020 article. "By 2016, nearly half of U.S. law enforcement agencies had body-worn cameras, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey."

Consolidated town camera system

While the town currently has cameras at municipal buildings and at the Millstone nuclear power station, Mahoney and Brule are pushing for more cameras and a system that would allow local officials to view live feeds from their offices or homes.

"I've been working for quite a while now on building security for municipal buildings," Mahoney said. "If there's ever a lockdown situation, it gives everybody a view of what's happening."

Mahoney wants to place cameras at different intersections throughout the town, around municipal buildings and in school areas. He said it's important the first selectman has a snapshot of the town; that the superintendent of schools can see if it's snowing and how bad conditions are; that the public works director can take stock of plowing; and for the emergency management director to stay abreast of any issues at Millstone.

"I need to see what's going on in other parts of town — I need to be able to put it on my TV," Brule said, pointing to a television in the corner of his office. "I'm in a bubble here, the chief's in a bubble here, and when you have (routes) 395, 95 and 85 all running through your town, I need to be aware of what's going on."

Brule said he doesn't want to continue learning about what happens in town from Facebook or residents.

"Once we get this done, and we have an eye in the sky everywhere, we can get an idea of what's happening with traffic in real time, for example, so there's a lot of positives to it," Brule added.

Mahoney hopes the $97,000 will act as a foundational investment, with expansion and improvements in future years.

While speaking on the ambitious plan, Mahoney acknowledged privacy concerns.

"I'm very cognizant of school security and privacy," Mahoney said. "The cameras I'm talking about, they'll all be tied into a larger system, but we as a police department are not trying to look into schools."

The Board of Finance is scheduled to hold a budget hearing on Monday.

©2020 The Day (New London, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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