The Gloversville Police Department has begun researching the possible use of body cameras by its officers, a move that could come by the end of the year.
“I really have done a lot of research into this, and I believe that they serve a useful purpose,” Police Chief Donald VanDeusen said Friday. “I believe that these cameras serve the dual purpose of keeping both the police officers and the people we deal with on their best behavior, so to speak. Everybody behaves better when they’re on camera.”
The idea of equipping police officers with body cameras has gained traction nationwide as instances of police abuse have begun surfacing with some frequency thanks to bystander video. VanDeusen said he has not had any such problems with his officers, but wants to be “ahead of the curve.”
“I believe this is something that is coming at some point,” he said. “At this point, I’d like to embrace it and have our people embrace it as a tool for their protection and also as a matter of protection for the public.”
VanDeusen has been studying information about body cameras and model policies from organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, as well as meeting with the Saratoga Springs Police Department, which has been using them since 2013.
He said the cameras raise issues about privacy and public access that need to be carefully thought out, like determining what footage will be subject to Freedom of Information Law requests.
At the Saratoga Springs Police Department, officers are “encouraged, but not mandated, to record certain situations such as traffic stops, confrontational situations, suspicious persons and vehicles, among other legitimate law enforcement encounters,” while being “instructed to avoid recording persons who are nude or when sensitive human areas are exposed, or in areas where a heightened expectation of privacy would be expected, such as in locker rooms or restrooms,” according to the department’s website.
Officers are only allowed to wear the cameras while in uniform, and they do not have to notify others that they are being filmed. However, the department notes, “officers have found that notifying individuals that they are being recorded is often helpful in de-escalating tense situations.”
VanDeusen said he’d plan to equip the roughly 24 field officers (patrol officers and sergeants) in the department with the cameras. The estimated cost is between $20,000 and $30,000 for initial purchase and installation of servers and other related equipment, and between $15,000 and $20,000 each year for ongoing costs like server maintenance or a subscription to a cloud-based storage service, according to VanDeusen.
He said he believes the department has enough money for the initial cost, and he’s working with state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, to pursue additional funding.
“I’d like to have as much information available in the next couple months as I can to make an informed decision,” he said. “And if this project is to take place, I’d like to have it take place before the end of this calendar year.”