According Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber of Schenectady, NY, over the past five weeks 18 patrol officers and sergeants have volunteered to test body camera models and other equipment and hardware. They tested devices from two companies before evaluating the systems.
The department will soon move into the second phase of testing and training by repeating the process for two other vendors. That process is scheduled to end in late September, and then the department will ask for feedback from the officers. Before selecting one of the vendors, they will also report their findings to a steering committee consisting of city, police, civil liberties, and community members.
According to Seber, officers will be taught how to properly tag or catalog videos with an incident number that is based on the severity of the alleged crime. They will also be required to download, store, and back up recordings. Part of the criteria for the camera testing is the quality and clarity of the video and audio.
In an interaction between a police officer and a civilian, there are often different accounts of what happened. Quality video is the evidence needed to support one version of events over the other. This proof is already useful in substantiating police misconduct within the NYPD at 18.6% (compared to 9.3% before video was available), as evaluated by the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board.
By early 2019, Seber is hoping that the department will be able to deploy about 110 body cameras in scheduled waves to between 10 and 15 officers a week. This gradual, staggered approach is modeled after what larger police forces have done in recent years. The method gives each officer a reasonable amount of time to train with the cameras.
Public Defender Stephen Signore, who is part of the steering committee, sees the cameras as another tool to enhance transparency within the police department. According to Angelica Morris, executive director of the county of Human Rights Commission, when police officers wear body cameras, they provide a lens into police interaction with the public.
“Some communities, particularly communities of color, have legitimate concerns about being overly surveilled. [The committee] will monitor this issue and ensure officers aren’t abusing access to video to tailor their statements, interviews, and reports to the footage,” says Morris.
About 93% of the public favors the use of body cameras by officers to record interactions with citizens, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. The Schenectady Police Department has hopes that their implementation of body cameras will improve community relations.