Selectmen may shelve body camera
Updated 9:52 am, Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Raising questions of cost and immediate need, the Board of Selectmen leaned sharply toward tabling an $87,142 capital request to outfit police officers with body cameras during 2016.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said she would like to see the technology tried out in a pilot program during a high volume police shift before introducing the cameras department-wide.
“I think proactive policing is moving in the direction someday when all departments will require all officers to wear cameras,” Stevenson said. “I just don’t know if we need to be there quite yet, and I don’t think we necessarily need to be a leader in that area.”
Stevenson said while buying the equipment will probably become a prerequisite to preserve public confidence in fair and unbiased policing, Darien currently keeps extensive records on traffic stops and other interactions which can be scrutinized for evidence of any bias. A fall report by the University of Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project that identified problems with racial profiling in some other Connecticut communities did not do so in Darien, she said.
“There was a study done in fact and the town of Darien was not implicated as one of the towns or cities that needs to pay particular attention to that,” Stevenson said. “ If the report had come back in a different way I might be suggesting we move forward with the cameras this year.”
The issue of the body cameras was discussed at a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen where the group considered possible deductions or increases to the town’s $45.5-million proposed general government budget. The board was scheduled to take action on the budget and the town’s six-year capital plan Wednesday night.
Democratic Selectmen Rob Richards said with the cameras becoming more prevalent the town could benefit from waiting until the technology fell in price and improved in reliability. Operating the camera system would also require about $60,000 a year for data storage and other costs.
“I prefer if we don’t need it right now to wait,” Richards said. “I just see the system getting better and I know if we wait the cost will go down.”
The board also expressed support for increasing funding to the Darien Historical Society to fund educational programs and preserving documents, but considered reducing the requested increase from $15,000 to $10,000.
The $15,000 allocation includes $5,970 for preserving documents with the rest supporting education programs in local schools.
“I have a bit of a philosophical challenge subsidizing a public schools education program with that grant but having said that I do want to be supportive and might like us to consider approving a grant in the amount of $10,000,” Stevenson said. “… The program they provide for the public schools is really outstanding.”
The group also came down as generally supportive of adding up to $40,000 into the budget to purchase electronic signs that use radar to warn motorists of their speed to post at elementary schools to improve pedestrian safety. The signs were recommended as an important improvement in a recent report by the town’s Pedestrian Infrastructure Advisory Committee.
“I’m hoping this board can sort of be a leader in supporting walking student safety,” Republican Selectman Susan Marks said.
Other proposed changes discussed at the meeting included a possible increase from $7,000 to $9,000 to the Darien Chamber of Commerce to fund the annual Holiday Lights display, $33,000 to replace and repair a floor at the Noroton Fire Station, and a transfer of $446,200 in grant revenue into the town’s capital fund as a book-keeping measure.
The town budget initially proposed by Town Administrator Kate Buch represents a 3.2-percent drop from the 2015-2016 year.