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Rhode Island Passes Statewide Body Camera Funding Law

Rhode Island recently approved a statewide program to fund body camera purchases for police departments. For some cities, like the Newport Police Department, a body camera program has been active for years.

Newport PD officer wearing body camera in 2017
The Newport Police Department implemented its body camera program in 2017.
(TNS) — State officials recently announced a Rhode Island-wide program to provide money for every municipal police department that chooses to buy body cameras, but Newport has been ahead of the curve for years.

The Newport Police Department implemented its body camera program in May 2017 “to remain contemporary with law enforcement best practices of agency transparency, accountability, and community trust,” Police Chief Gary Silva wrote in an email to The Daily News.

Newport and Providence are the only two police departments that currently require the use of body cameras, though others have had pilot programs, The Providence Journal reported last month.

A Senate bill introduced on June 16 to create a statewide body-worn camera program for police departments passed both the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rhode Island General Assembly website, and Gov. Dan McKee signed the bill into law on July 8.

State Rep. Deb Ruggiero, who represents Jamestown and Middletown in District 74, is a supporter who voted for the bill. "It brings community policing into the 21st century," Ruggiero told The Daily News on Tuesday.

She explained the legislation would not mandate the use of body cameras for all police departments. Rather, "it's enabling them" by making state funds available. But there's a caveat: To access the funds, departments will have to adopt the rules and regulations for body camera usage, which will be ironed out.

According to the Senate bill: "The director of the department of public safety is hereby authorized, within available funds, to award grants and other forms of funding to facilitate the adoption of body-worn cameras by Rhode Island police departments ... No money appropriated in the state budget shall be distributed for Rhode Island police department body-worn camera expenses before rules and regulations are promulgated."

According to the legislation, the attorney general and director of the Department of Public Safety, in consultation with the Rhode Island Police Chiefs' Association, shall promulgate the rules and regulations, subject to a public hearing.

The Newport Police Department currently has 22 cameras “proportionately deployed to the Patrol Shifts, including one assigned to a supervisor on each shift,” Silva explained. There are two cameras assigned to the detective division.

When it comes to some of the biggest challenges associated with the technology, Silva pointed to cost, locking in a funding source, allocating staff labor to manage the program and “sustainability strategy.” For other departments that plan to launch the program, he advised them to take those considerations into account.

Newport Communications Officer Thomas Shevlin said the annual cost for 22 body cameras is $29,688; that covers licensing fees (the use of the cameras, basically) and storage fees (for videos to be recorded and uploaded). It doesn’t include the initial purchase of the cameras and associated equipment, he said.

Shevlin referred The Daily News to Silva when asked if the city would take advantage of state funds to cover the costs of the cameras.

"The exactness of the state plan has yet to be determined and remains a work-in-progress," Silva said. "The police department will take advantage of any funding source as appropriate to agency needs, and the ability to adequately provide a sufficient number of personnel to successfully manage the program as it expands."

©2021 Newport Daily News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.