SCHENECTADY -- The Schenectady Police Department is looking to select which body cameras they will use by early November, according to Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber.
The department has spent the last year researching and testing four different types of body cameras that would be used in the line of duty, Seber said. They recently were able to narrow their search to two different models and plan to choose which one they will go with in November.
“Our goal is to begin deployment in the first week of January,” Seber said. “But it depends on the vendor getting us these cameras.”
City Council members voted in November 2017 to accept a $165,000 grant to cover the cost of the cameras and the equipment associated with them. Seber said the grant required a match from the city, which was fulfilled through services and salaries accounts. Seber also said approximately $50,000 was set aside in the city’s capital budget to fund a server where they would store data from the cameras.
Police were looking for 18 police officers to volunteer to test out the body cameras, but more than that actually were willing to test them, Seber said. They had to cap it at 18, though, because they only received nine cameras from each of the vendors.
The department tested out the cameras over an 11 week period, Seber said.
Seber said they would have nine officers test out one model, while the other nine would test out a different model. Then after two to three weeks, Seber said, the officers would exchange cameras.
“What we did at the end of each testing phase is we have the officers complete surveys to weigh the pros and cons of each device,” Seber said.
There were drawbacks to some of the cameras, Seber said. Some of the cameras only had a battery life of six to eight hours, forcing officers to have to recharge them during their shifts.
Others didn’t have good low light capabilities, making it difficult to see footage recorded during the nighttime.
Seber said they also want to make sure the cameras recorded sound well, had good video quality and were durable.
“We want to make sure officers in the field, if they’re in a pursuit or in an altercation with a suspect, that [the camera] can hold up,” Seber said.
He said they also researched how compatible each of the two models were with their in-car video system. They want to have the capability for whenever they turned on one of the video recording systems, whether it be the body camera or the in-car video system, the other one turns on automatically.
Body cameras would build on the technology that is currently available at the Police Department, which are the in-car video systems. Body cameras would be self-contained, meaning the recording would be done on the device and not transmitting through the car. This will lead to entire foot chases being fully captured, as opposed to what can only be captured from the perspective of cameras in the car or what audio could be transmitted to the car.
Now that the department has it narrowed down to two models, they are researching the different software associated with each of them. This includes finding ways to reduce the amount of time officers would need to spend attaching information to videos, such as incident numbers and crime classifications.
Seber said they hope to complete that research within the next week or two.
Only the 110 patrol officers in the department will be using the body cameras, Seber said. He said detectives will not be wearing them at first, but that’s something Seber said the department could explore in the future.
Once a model is selected and purchased, Seber said, the 18 officers who tested the cameras will the be the first ones to be outfitted with them.
Those 18 officers will also be considered the training unit for the cameras, meaning they will help in training other officers on the technology.
“Obviously, they are familiar with the product,” Seber said.
The department will then stagger the deployment of the cameras each week to the rest of the patrol officers. Seber said the department wants to make sure each officer receives individual training as opposed to learning to use the cameras in a classroom setting. It will take several months to complete the full deployment of the body cameras to all of the department’s police officers, he said.
The policies and procedures established around the use of the body cameras is still being finalized, he said. That is being done in consultation with a committee of community stakeholders, which includes the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office, the county Public Defender’s Office, the county Human Rights Commission, and The Daily Gazette.
Ang Morris, executive director of the county Human Rights Commission, said the main goal for her is to make sure there isn’t any improper recording that occurs when police interact with the public.
“Ultimately, the aim is avoiding illegal, inappropriate police-civilian interactions, because everyone involved acts differently knowing a camera is rolling, as well as to ensure that footage is stored and utilized in a manner that respects the privacy of minors, victims of sexual assault and any person who may be recorded initially as a subject in an incident but isn’t ultimately determined to have a role in a crime,” Morris said in an emailed statement. “Some communities, particularly communities of color, have legitimate concerns about being overly surveilled. The body camera committee will monitor this issue and ensure officers aren’t abusing access to video to tailor their statements, interviews, and reports to the footage.”
The Police Department also met with the local chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union regarding its body camera program.
Melanie Trimble, the director of the Capital Region Chapter of the NYCLU, said they felt good about the policies the department has developed so far. She said her organization just wants to make sure the department follows those policies.
Specifically, though, Trimble said police need to respect a person’s privacy when using body cameras.
“If [police] are just having a conversation with someone, and there’s no criminal action there, police need to notify the person being filmed and the person can request not to be filmed,” Trimble said.
Body cameras are generally always on, but only record on a rolling 30 seconds unless they are activated. Once they are turned on, they capture the previous 30 seconds and continue to record.
Seber said the department is aware of different privacy issues, as well as other issues when it comes to developing its policy for body cameras. He also said the policy for them could change as time goes on, calling it “a living document.”
“When I say it’s a living document, I can see changes over the next year or two we’ll make in the policy,” Seber said. “It will be constantly under review for the next year or two.”
He wants the public to know the department is doing its best when trying to develop its body camera program.
“It’s been a very involved process and we have really done our due diligence to have a good product out there for our citizens,” Seber said.