Amy Cheng

Alders from the Public Safety Committee came to Tuesday night’s public hearing hoping to put finishing touches on the city’s purchase of body cameras for New Haven Police Department officers. But they left disappointed after city officials failed to provide a detailed proposal for a committee vote.

The Public Safety Committee of the Board of Alders heard testimony from three city officials Tuesday night on New Haven’s application for a state grant from Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management, which would potentially give New Haven $1.5 million to reimburse the purchase of body-worn cameras for 455 NHPD officers. But as of Tuesday night’s meeting, the grant application has still not been submitted as the alders reluctantly pointed out several issues. Most significantly, the city has not yet decided on a camera vendor and the NHPD has not reached a complete understanding with the police union on terms of use for the cameras.

“I was excited to come to this meeting, but I won’t walk out feeling the same way,” Ward 17 Alder Alphonse Paolillo Jr. said. “We are supportive of body cams but certainly not supportive of this process.”

Maggie Targove, deputy director at the city Office of Emergency Management, said at Tuesday’s hearing that the city is deciding between two body cam suppliers with varying prices and levels of services. She added that the NHPD is conducting two three-day test runs for each vendor before choosing, a process that is underway this week and next week.

Targove said the time frame for these pilot tests is tight because the city wants to finalize everything before June 30, the deadline to obtain full reimbursement. If the grant application fails to make that deadline, the body camera project could only be reimbursed for 50 percent of its total cost.

Because vendor selection remains in the air, city officials cannot give an accurate cost for the project, making available only an estimate of $1.8 million to $2.2 million over a five-year period. These estimates take into account the cost for actual cameras, footage storage and other technology support, according to Targove.

In addition to the cameras themselves, the alders expressed concern over their terms of use. Ward 15 Alder Ernie Santiago questioned whether the city can compel the police union to agree to install body cameras if the state grant is secured. According to City Controller Daryl Jones, state statutes require police departments to implement these camera devices for every uniformed officer, including the police chief. He insisted that this decision is nonnegotiable in the city’s dialogues with the police union.

The Public Safety Committee also criticized the city for allegedly dragging its heels in putting together a viable plan. Paolillo said the discussion to implement body cameras started in summer 2014, but he pointed that the city is still not ready. Brian Wingate, alder of Ward 29, echoed Paolillo’s sentiment, claiming that after two pilot runs in the past two years, New Haven is back to the drawing board.

“It’s troubling and disheartening that you don’t have all your ducks in a row,” Wingate said.

The alders said they were unsatisfied with the progress and focused on concerns such as the lack of transparency and efficiency in the decision making and the total absence of NHPD participation in the hearing, among others.

Public Safety Committee Chair and Ward 12 Alder Gerard Antunes pointed out that utilizing body cameras is an integral part of community policing, which has been the Elm City’s policing philosophy for decades. He said his committee “took a beating” at the public hearing on the civilian review board two weeks ago, adding that the failure to authorize a vote on the body cameras sets that conversation back.

Antunes also called into question the effectiveness of the current tests, claiming that he is unsure how three-day pilots would render more useful information than the three-month experiments that took place in previous years.

“I am totally disturbed that no one from the police department came [to the public hearing],” Antunes said. “We are spinning our wheels here.”

On March 17, NHPD Acting Chief Anthony Campbell  and the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Michael Carter submitted a letter to board President and Ward 23 Alder Tyisha Walker, calling for the Board of Alders to authorize the grant application before June 30 this year so that the city could receive full reimbursement for the relevant equipment and services.

The state funding would be provided by OPM’s Body-Worn Recording Equipment Reimbursement Grant Program.