Nine Connecticut state senators, responding to national conversations about police brutality, have introduced a bill that would begin a pilot program requiring police officers to wear body cameras while on patrol.
The legislation, introduced at a public hearing on Feb. 17, would create a one-year program to study the outcomes when municipal police officers wear body cameras. According to the bill, the program would pilot in three cities, which are yet to be announced, of varying sizes with the goal of establishing a state-wide standard for when a camera should be turned on. The bill would also mandate an evaluation of the different available technologies.
One of the senators introducing the bill, state Sen. Marilyn Moore, a Democrat representing Bridgeport, Trumbull and a portion of Monroe, said in an email that the bill has been introduced because of a “public outcry” against police brutality against minorities. Moore added that the use of body cameras has already proved successful in improving policing in cities across California, most notably in Rialto — a city 60 miles due east of Los Angeles, and so Connecticut should do the same.
“Passing this piece of legislation would be beneficial for both parties involved; it serves as another form of protection,” she said.
At the public hearing Tuesday, Mayor Toni Harp testified in favor of the bill. She said awareness of the camera and knowledge that a recording is being made can alter behaviors and prevent a situation from escalating to a point where force might be necessary. Furthermore, a recording of the circumstances, Harp said, would prove “invaluable” during follow-up analyses of events, providing a clear picture of what happened and when.
Some police departments in Connecticut have been looking to use police cameras independent of both the legislation and unrest over police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York.
Hartford Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley said the Hartford Police Department has been looking into using body cameras since 2012. Currently, Hartford City Council members are deciding whether to enforce complete use of body cameras across the police force. While Foley said he does not know how these cameras would work if they were required for all department officers, reports and studies show that citizen complaints drop significantly after implementation. In Rialto, a study by the Police Foundation revealed that in the first year after the cameras were introduced in February 2012, the number of complaints fell by 88 percent from the previous 12 months. The use of force fell by almost 60 percent over the same timeframe.
“In our community, if our citizens want us to have , we should listen to them and explore the options,” he said.
According to Yale Deputy Press Secretary Karen Peart, the Yale Police Department, along with the New Haven Police Department and police departments in nearby towns, has already started examining the utility of body cameras.
She said the YPD began a body camera pilot program in 2013 and currently has 10 body cameras for its officers.
On Dec. 1, 2014, a press release from the White House said President Barack Obama proposed a three-year investment of $75 million to increase the use of body-worn cameras across the nation. The investment would support a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program, which would match 50 percent of funds to certain states and localities, which together could purchase over 50,000 body-worn cameras. On Dec. 18, Obama signed an executive order establishing the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which would advise the President on reducing crime while maintaining a level of trust between police officers and their communities.
On Jan. 31, Police Foundation President Jim Bueermann, a California police officer who has seen implementation of the cameras, testified in front of the task force. He said that while body cameras have many benefits, a lot more research needs to be done into their usage and potential.
“It is important to remember that no single technology is going serve as the panacea to the tension that exists today between the police and many of the communities they protect,” he told the task force.
Foley said there are many downsides to these cameras that have yet to be explored. He specifically said he does not know how the use of cameras could affect young training officers, for whom a recording of a moment of misjudgment could completely change their career options. Furthermore, he said citizens who wish to report a crime may feel less inclined to do so if they think their identity would be revealed through recorded video.
However, state Sen. Gary Winfield, who represents New Haven and Hamden, an African-American man who grew up in the Bronx and one of the nine who introduced this legislation, said having body cameras will help make citizens feel that interacting with law enforcement will not end in a physical and potentially deadly scenario.
“Every time I leave my home, even to take out the trash, I carry identification,” he said. “I carry this because of my experience growing up in New York where the same people we called on in times of need were the very people we were afraid to interact with: the police.”
Harp encouraged those at the Tuesday hearing to experiment with the cameras, and support the pilot program introduced by the nine Connecticut senators.
“Let’s underscore our commitment to the idea that municipal police officers, sworn to prevent crime as well as enforce the law, are an extension of our community, accountable to all its members, and willing to be on record about it,” she said.