Tiverton, R.I., Police Pilot New Body Cameras Program

Police officials say body cams are just another tool police can use when compiling evidence and reviewing best practices, especially with claims nationwide of police misconduct resulting in multimillion-dollar lawsuits.

by Marcia Pobzeznik, Newport Daily News / August 30, 2019
A police officer wears a body camera. Wikipedia

(TNS) — Patrolman Jason Kobelecki's duty belt is loaded with tools of his trade – two pairs of handcuffs, flashlight, a gun, extra bullets, a Taser, a radio, pepper spray, expandable baton, latex gloves and key ring – but a new piece of equipment was added recently as part of a trial program he and Patrolman Sean Frodyma are taking part in.

A small body camera is perched on his shoulder that is connected by a wire to an activator on the front of his belt that makes it easy to switch the camera on during traffic stops and other times when there is reason to believe someone may be violating the law.

The person being recorded is always told by the officer that it is happening.

Tiverton, R.I., Police Chief Patrick Jones says the body camera is just one more tool police can use when compiling evidence and reviewing best police practices, especially now when there are more claims nationwide of police misconduct that have resulted in multi-million dollar lawsuits.

"We know it's coming," Jones said of a time when all police officers will likely be outfitted with body cameras, so he decided a few months ago to have Sgt. Bryan Palagi research body cameras and the policies employed by local law enforcement agencies that are using them.

They've reviewed policies from Newport and Providence and tweaked them for their smaller, 32-man department.

At the end of the 30-day trial period — they are halfway through it now — the cameras that are on loan free-of-charge from the same company that makes the Tasers the officers carry on their belts, will be returned.

Jones said he expects to have a line item for body cameras in his next budget that would begin in July, 2020, and expects there will be grants to help acquire them. But there are several things that must be analyzed between now and then.

"One of the biggest things we have to talk about as a small department is the actual managing of the data," Palagi said. "Everything has to be reviewed and tagged," he said of the video that is stored on an iPhone. "Managing those files will probably be the hardest thing," he said.

So far, the two officers using the equipment have found it to be user friendly, Palagi said.

There was a reason Jones chose Kobelecki and Frodyma for the pilot program. One works the day shift and one works the night shift, so they have different experiences during their shifts, Jones said. Frodyma has been on the job for 18 years, and Kobelecki for three so they have different levels of experience.

"They're required to give reports, the pros, the cons, the good, the bad, anything exceptionally notable" Jones said of them detailing their use of the cameras to Palagi who will compile the final report.

Palagi said he did find during his research that the cameras that are used by numbers of police departments throughout the country have resulted in a decrease in the use of force.

"A lot of agencies reported noticing a huge decrease in the use of force because people are more cordial knowing they're being videoed," Palagi said.

"It's no different than any other tool," Jones said of the cameras. "It's not the end all and be all," he said.

Technology is constantly changing so the cameras in use today will likely be replaced by more advanced units in the near future.

There are cameras that can attach to a holster so whenever an officer draws a weapon the camera automatically begins to record, and recordings made out on the road can be monitored from the police station.

Kobelecki said he can't think of anything negative to report about his experience with the body camera to date.

"A lot of bigger cities have them already," Kobelecki said. "I don't think it really changes what we're doing," he said of police carrying out their day-to-day duties.

©2019 Newport Daily News, R.I. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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