Officials Consider Police Use Of Body Cameras
Police Commission Chairman Paul Mangiafico said this week that the commission will be discussing whether town police officers should use body cameras while on duty to visually and sonically record their interactions with the public.
The state legislature on June 29 passed two criminal justice bills, one of which covers the use of police body cameras. That bill requires that state police wear such body cameras and also offers financial incentives to municipalities to have their police departments use such devices.
Body cameras, also known as body-worn video, typically are positioned on the front of a police officer’s shirt to record interactions with the public.
Mr Mangiafico said this week, “I think the idea is meritorious. It needs to be discussed.” The use of such devices, however, raises many issues that need to be addressed before such cameras could be employed, he said.
Those issues include the circumstances under which body cameras would be recording video, according to the commission chairman.
“There’s a lot of issues,” he said, including how recorded video would be stored and also how long that recorded video would be stored.
Police Commission members have asked Police Chief Michael Kehoe to provide them with his thoughts and recommendations regarding body cameras, Mr Mangiafico said, adding “It’s not as simple as it sounds.”
If they were to be employed, the Police Commission would need to formulate regulations on the use of body cameras, he said.
The chairman noted that Police Commission members briefly talked about body cameras at a recent meeting, but added, “It was not a long discussion.”
“It’s much more complicated than it appears on the surface,” he said.
When the specifics of a law enforcement situation are in question, the recordings made by a body camera could aid the position of either a citizen or a police officer, Mr Mangiafico said.
“It’s worth having a discussion about,” regardless of the state legislature’s action on the matter, he said. “It needs to be discussed and analyzed,” he said.
The chairman said he expects the commission to discuss the body camera issue at one of its meetings before the end of the year.
Police Union Not In Favor
Newtown Police Union President Scott Ruszczyk, who represents 43 of the 45 town police officers, has definite ideas about the value of having town police use body cameras.
“I think it’s a waste of money,” he said.
Having body cameras recording interactions between police and the public could be useful in places where the police have strained relations with minority groups, he said.
“We have never had a complaint from a minority” in Newtown, he said.
The situation would be different here if Newtown police had been identified as having racial profiling problems, but they have not, Mr Ruszczyk said.
“The police union does not support this, as there’s not a problem,” he said. “I’m not in favor of it,” he said.
Mr Ruszczyk said that if police were to wear body cameras which were pointed at the public during police/public encounters, the public would not want to interact with police.
Police Chief: A "Complex" Issue
Chief Kehoe noted that town police currently record all motor vehicle stops that they make through the use of forward-pointing video cameras, which are mounted atop the dashboards of police patrol vehicles.
The police chief said that state officials will be formulating some basic policies on the use of body camera by police officers.
Chief Kehoe said he will be analyzing the specifics of the state law on body cameras, which was approved by the legislature. He said he also wants to review pertinent research on the topic.
Although the body camera technology exists, the use such devices by police poses many issues, including privacy issues, he said.
“There’s quite a few things to think about. It’s complex,” he said. “We’ve got to move slowly, methodically,” he said.
Although the police use of body cameras may be worthwhile, there are many issues to address, he said.
Chief Kehoe said that after fully researching the topic, he would submit his recommendations to the Police Commission.