Only nine days into the New Haven Police Department’s 90-day body camera pilot program, police officers and administrators are already seeing the program’s promise.
The pilot program, funded through a $90,000 grant from the Board of Alders, equipped 27 police officers with different types of body cameras to test which model would best suit the NHPD. At the outset, the program garnered enthusiasm from officers, with 54 police officers volunteering to participate in the program, according to Lieutenant Rachel Cane. Although the program is still in its early stages, officers said they anticipate body cameras will ultimately become an essential part of the workforce.
“It’s no different than the first Miranda waiver, the first recorded confession — just another advancement that we will welcome,” District 4 Manager Sergeant Stephan Torquati said.
Cane said officers wearing the cameras have already captured multiple arrests on tape. If those cases go to trial, Cane said, that footage might be used in court.
Despite the net positive reaction about the camera use, the NHPD has yet to delineate clear regulations in terms of when and where the body cameras must be turned on or off. Loose guidelines suggest that officers should turn the cameras on during the execution of an arrest or search warrant, dispatched citizen calls and during investigations of suspicious persons who may be involved in crime.
Still, because the program is new, there are no formal punishments in place if an officer fails to turn on a camera during one of those situations.
“There’s a lot of discretion in policing in general,” Cane said. “If the officer feels that [the cameras] will not be needed or that they can’t get the information they need with it on, it’s up to them.”
Police do have the authority to keep the camera on even if a civilian asks the officer to turn it off.
While the funding for the pilot program came from the city, the NHPD also applied for a federal grant this month, requesting more than $250,000 to fund the new initiative. That money would go towards information technology specialists and equipment to store the data collected on the cameras, Cane said.
According to Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa, the Board of Alders does not currently have plans to fund the police body cameras after the 90-day program ends. She said that if the NHPD is not awarded the federal grant and they want additional city funding, they would have to re-apply for funding from the city.
Festa added that overall, instituting body cameras is a positive advancement for the police force and the community.
“The body cameras are going to show the good, the bad, the ugly,” Festa said. “Body cameras overall will give a general positive understanding of the situation on both sides.”
Although the NHPD is new to body cameras, some police forces in Connecticut, including the Branford Police Department, have been using them since 2008.