Hartford, Conn., Stops Short of Approving $1.8M Body Camera Program

The plan to outfit officers with 325 body-worn cameras must be approved this week for the city to qualify for $750,000 in state funds.

by Jenna Carlesso, The Hartford Courant / June 26, 2018
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(TNS) — Council members balked Monday at an 11th-hour proposal to buy hundreds of body cameras and outfit Hartford, Conn., police officers by the end of the year.

Mayor Luke Bronin had asked the council to sign off on a plan to purchase 325 body-worn cameras for $1.8 million. The proposal must be approved this week for the city to qualify for $750,501 in state assistance.

Without the state funding, council members said the cash-strapped city probably would be unable to afford the cameras.

But several members took issue with the last-minute arrival of the measure. Wildaliz Bermudez, the panel’s minority leader, said she and others only received the plan last week.

A special meeting has been called for Thursday night to see if the council can reach an agreement on the cameras. The latest the city may apply for the state aid is Saturday.

Bronin’s office declined comment Monday night. Earlier in the day, a spokesman for the mayor said negotiations with the police union, which came on board in December, and the selection of a vendor delayed the process.

Council members also fixated on a controversial subsection of the proposal that authorizes Hartford leaders to spend another $438,000 on 200 new Tasers from the company supplying the cameras.

Bermudez noted that Tasers have led to more than a dozen deaths in Connecticut since 2005, and have been used disproportionately against people of color.

Police officials said Monday that the department planned to begin outfitting officers with body cameras this fall.

Groups of 20 or 30 officers would be trained and equipped at a time. By January, a majority of the 380-officer force would be wearing the devices.

David McGuire, head of Connecticut’s American Civil Liberties Union, said that while his group supports body cameras, the city shouldn’t have waited until the last minute to seek authorization.

“When you bring technology on like this, it has very positive and very negative potential,” he said. “The reality is that without meaningful public input, you’re never going to strike the right balance.”

Hartford police Captain Jason Thody said the department will seek public feedback when it develops a policy in the coming months for use of the cameras.

Twenty-nine other police departments statewide have sought reimbursement from Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management for the purchase of body-worn cameras, from small communities like Putnam and Redding to larger cities like New Haven. The University of Connecticut’s police force, and law enforcement at Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut state universities, were among those seeking funds.

Bridgeport is searching for a vendor and is pursuing state aid to pay for the devices, said Av Harris, an adviser to Mayor Joe Ganim.

OPM has paid out $3.07 million in reimbursements for body cameras so far, data compiled by the office shows.

State police have acquired 800 cameras and pledged to phase them in this summer. Barracks in Hartford and Bethany will be the first to get them.

©2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.