After nearly two years of debate, discussion and test trials, the New Haven Police Department has neared its goal of securing body cameras by the end of June.
The NHPD has been attempting to obtain a state grant to reimburse the costs of procuring body cameras for the 450 members of its police force. Acting Police Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 submitted a request to the Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker late last month to apply for $1.5 million in reimbursement grant funding from Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management. Although New Haven has yet to submit the application, the city is in contact with the OPM, though there is not yet a set timeline, according to Chris McClure, an OPM spokesperson.
“New Haven is in the process of working with OPM,” McClure said. “[The submission] will be processed as one application.”
According to McClure, 11 applications from other Connecticut jurisdictions have already been processed, and the office anticipates it will consider another nine for approval by spring. He added that he expects the OPM to continue receiving applications for state reimbursements after the spring.
Funding for the police department’s body cameras will come from the Body-Worn Recording Equipment Reimbursement Grant Program, which was announced by the OPM in February 2016. In order to be fully reimbursed for equipment and first-year data storage costs, the NHPD will need to purchase the cameras for its 455 officers by June 30. Following that date the reimbursement rate will decrease to only 50 percent for one year of service. Senate Bill 770, passed in the fall of 2015, indicated the potential costs of the devices, which can each range from $300 to $1,000, plus additional storage costs of up to $35 per month.
According to NHPD spokesperson David Hartman, a new equipment testing pilot began on April 10 and will continue for another week and a half. The city is still in discussion with the police union to address any remaining concerns pertaining to the use of body cameras.
“We still have equipment to test, funding to secure and policies to clarify,” said Hartman. “We will present a [press] release once we’re ready to roll out the program.”
The NHPD’s move to procure body cameras for its officers comes amid a nation- and statewide trend toward police forces equipped with body cameras. In May 2015, then-President Barack Obama and the Department of Justice launched the Body-Worn Camera Pilot Implementation Program, which provided the NHPD with the $90,000 it used to fund its pilot program, which ran from the beginning of September to the end of November 2015.
Meanwhile, the neighboring Hamden and East Haven police departments have already adopted body cameras.
According to Lt. Joseph Murgo, the public information officer of the EHPD, the 52 officers on the city’s police force began using body cameras in June 2014. Officers use the cameras when interacting with citizens in situations that may lead to arrest, though the EHPD has encouraged its members to run the cameras “all the time,” according to Murgo.
“[The cameras are] not just used to document uses of force, they’re used to document evidence [and] witness statements,” said Murgo. “They even capture inadvertent information in the background that we don’t even realize is going on until we revert back to our videos. [The use of body cameras] promotes better accountability on officers and on civilians as well.”
Despite initial resistance from a few officers, Murgo said the EHPD has embraced the use of body cameras and believes it to have been a net positive for the police force.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic about the new technology. Barbara Fair, a longtime New Haven activist, said the body cameras will make a difference in police accountability but will not be sufficient to eliminate instances of officer violence. Fair said that videos of police misconduct sometimes “yield no justice” for victims and suggested that the historically detrimental impact of police activities on marginalized communities demonstrated the need to “drastically shift the police culture” to reduce police misbehavior.
But Murgo disagreed, saying that the body cameras prove that “the overwhelming majority” of police officers do their jobs “fairly and justly.”
The DOJ’s Body-Worn Camera Pilot Implementation Program also awarded funds for the Stamford Police Department.
Correction, April 12: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Joseph Murgo is a sergeant. He is a lieutenant.