Darien RTM okays police body cams
DARIEN — Police in Darien may be equipped with body cameras by the beginning of 2017.
On Sept. 26, the Representative Town Meeting overwhelmingly agreed to spend about $87,000 to equip all patrolling officers with body cameras.
The hope, however, is to use state grant money to cover the initial cost of $87,142 to begin the body cameras program. This is the first year Connecticut has offered state funding for police body cameras. The Darien police department will be applying for some of it, but there is no guarantee.
Chief of Police Duane Lovello said whether or not the state comes through with any money to fund the equipment, it is a small cost to provide cameras. Still, some members of the RTM remained skeptical.
Joanne Hennessy, of District Five, questioned the wisdom of spending money on body cameras at the moment, stating her belief that incidents between police and civilians were few and isolated to major cities. Hennessy said, in the case of Charlotte, N.C., body camera footage was deemed inconclusive and exacerbated tensions.
“I question whether this is the highest and best use of our tax dollars,” she said. “I think our police are incredibly well-trained and they do a wonderful job. I just don’t know if this is the time to spend this kind of money.”
Lovello, however, mentioned incidents — one of which involved a Bridgeport man pulled over on a bicycle who filmed his interaction with police and posted it on various social media outlets — that have transpired in Darien since body cameras were last considered over the winter during the budget process.
“What happens there is you’re not capturing the complete picture. You have that person driving the narrative and putting forth a version of events that simply did not occur,” the police chief said about the incident with the cyclist. “What we can do with the body camera is allow people to form their own opinions by seeing the event from start to finish.”
Lovello also said that, since the public’s eye is very much trained on police and their interactions with civilians, it is important Darien stay out ahead of such issues.
“I must state very forcefully that the events that are transpiring around this country are evolving so quickly that I think we need to move on this now,” the police chief said. “Any level of transparency that we can bring to the table is only going to help us, not only as a police department, but as a town.”
According to Jack Davis, chairman of the Finance and Budget Committee, the body cameras would be replaced every two and a half years, though he said if new technology becomes available he would encourage the police department to upgrade.
After rolling out the program, the cost to maintain the equipment and store the videos will be about $17,000 a year.
The technology works such that at the end of each shift, Darien officers will dock their camera on a charging station. From there the data is automatically cataloged by officer, date and type of event, and uploaded to a secure cloud server.
According to Lovello, state policy from the attorney general’s office came up with two data retention periods, 90 days for initial retention of all videos, and four years of retention for any footage that could result in litigation. Access to videos would be determined on a case-to-case basis but ultimately would be governed by state Freedom of Information law.
In Fairfield County, Westport, Norwalk and Wilton have already embraced body camera technology.
“These cameras are not a panacea; they are not the solution to all of our problems,” Lovello said, “but I do think it goes a long way.”