Twenty-seven volunteers within the New Haven Police Department began their duties Tuesday morning with a new accessory: a body camera.
The new pilot program, which tests out different types of body cameras, was announced on Aug. 13 at the NHPD’s weekly data-sharing meetings, known as CompStat. Officers were encouraged to volunteer for the 90-day pilot program, testing body camera equipment and recording their interactions with the community. In addition to the NHPD, the Yale Police Department has gradually been introducing body cameras, with supervisors currently wearing them during their shifts, said Yale Deputy Press Secretary Karen Peart.
The decision to institute body cameras within the NHPD and the YPD is part of a national trend of police departments seeking new ways to develop trust between the force and the community. In May, President Barack Obama introduced the $20 million Body-Worn Camera Partnership Program, part of a larger program aiming to bring 50,000 body cameras to local law enforcement agencies.
In New Haven, calls for body cameras intensified after an officer was caught on video arresting a 15-year-old girl by knocking her to the ground. Meanwhile, on campus, an external advisory board recommended all YPD officers wear body cameras after an interaction between an officer and a student became the center of national scrutiny. On Jan. 24, an African-American student was stopped by a YPD offer during the search for a suspected burglar in Trumbull College. The incident led the University and the YPD to create an ad hoc panel to re-examine policies, which included the use of body cameras.
For both the YPD and the NHPD, discussion about the body cameras has centered on how to balance safety with privacy.
“The critical question for us will be less about the technology and more about the appropriate use of the cameras, and what policies we need to have in place to respect the privacy of students and others on campus while seeking to be open with the public,” Peart said.
Despite campus support for increased use of body cameras, Peart said implementing the devices is not as simple as it sounds. YPD officers frequently have to interact with students in situations that are not classified as police stops, Peart said, which complicates policy about when to use a camera and when the interaction should remain private.
In deciding how to use the new accessory, YPD Assistant Chief of Police Michael Patten said the police force considers statewide legislation.
“We are learning from our own use of the cameras and will be seeking out best practices, here in Connecticut and nationally,” Patten said.
Legislation passed over the summer requires state police to wear body cameras, but the requirement has not yet been extended to local police departments within the state. The most recent legislation, passed on June 2, calls for the development of a model policy that would stipulate how to store video data and which body cameras to use.
The recently passed bill, Senate Bill 770, also highlights cost issues attached to body cameras. Each camera can cost between $300 and $1,000, with storage costing up to $35 per officer per month.
Derek Puorro, vice president of the Connecticut Council of Police Unions, opposed the bill, with the argument that police departments should be able to decide for themselves whether they need body cameras. At the public hearing for the bill, he said the money spent on body cameras could be better spent elsewhere in the department, such as on police training.
In mid-August, the New Haven Register reported that in a closed meeting, the Board of Alders had approved $90,000 of funding to help the NHPD institute their pilot program, and develop a program to be implemented across the force.