Schenectady officers could have body cameras next year

Devices would help record police-suspect interaction

SCHENECTADY — All Schenectady police officers could have body cameras by the end of next summer through a new grant, police said Monday.

The $165,000 grant, along with a local match, is expected to cover cameras and equipment for each of the 110 patrol officers on the force, Assistant Chief Michael Seber said. The City Council on Monday voted to accept the grant.

The department is now researching the kinds of cameras available and the different policies needed, Seber said. A trial run to test different models on eight to 10 officers is expected as early as February or March.

“It’s a great investigative tool to have things that victims and suspects will say, to have clear documentation,” Seber said. 

The cameras will also show transparency for what officers do, Seber said. 

Video would better confirm what happened in incidents where the department receives complaints on officer actions, he said. The officer could be easily exonerated or the department could more easily determine something was wrong, he said.

A major part of the runup to implementing the technology is in finding  the right vendor and crafting the right policies, Seber said.

The department has had dash cameras and on-officer microphones. Officers are required to turn on their microphones when they interact with the public. 

Seber said he expects the body cameras to have similar requirements. 

The body cameras, however, have added features and added concerns that the microphones don’t. 

Dash camera videos can generally be released to the public directly through Freedom of Information Law requests mainly because the police cars remain in public areas. 

The body cameras will go with officers into homes, where right to privacy often attaches, Seber said. 

Many of the technologies have redaction capabilities that could be used to maybe blur children’s faces or views inside homes. The exact rules for that would be ironed out before the cameras are used, Seber said.

The body cameras are generally on constantly, but only record a rolling 30 seconds unless activated. When activated, they capture the previous 30 seconds and then stay in the recording mode.

“This is not a quick turnaround as far as issuing body cameras,” Seber said. “The reason is there is a lot of thought and a lot of legal advice we need as far as developing policy.”

The grant, from federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, requires a local match. That can be made through services and salaries accounts, Seber said.

He expects a new civilian position to help administer the body camera data and other video and audio collected through other means. The department also records felony suspect interviews.

The body cameras will also have another benefit above the current microphone technology, Seber said. 

Current microphone technology records at patrol cars, meaning a strong enough signal is needed from the officer to the car to capture audio. The body cameras will be self-contained, meaning recording is done on the device, not through transmitting to the car. That means entire foot chases would be fully captured rather than missing spots as they go out of range.

Officer actions have been questioned in the past regarding chases, including the May police custody death of Andrew Kearse.

Police arrested Kearse after a brief foot chase into back yards. He died after being transported to the police station. During transport, he complained of dizziness and breathing problems. It’s been unclear what audio was captured from the chase, but state police have said video from the transport and at the station exists.

The state Attorney General’s Office took the Kearse investigation. No updates have been released.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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