Long lens of the law

Naugatuck PD plans to equip officers with cameras

Naugatuck police Officer Matt Sulek shows the lipstick-style camera clipped on his right label in front of the Naugatuck Police Department May 2. Sulek is one of two officers wear-testing the cameras made by TASER International, Inc. The department has requested money in the 2013-14 budget to buy its own cameras. –LUKE MARSHALL

Naugatuck police Officer Matt Sulek shows the lipstick-style camera clipped on his right label in front of the Naugatuck Police Department May 2. Sulek is one of two officers wear-testing the cameras made by TASER International, Inc. The department has requested money in the 2013-14 budget to buy its own cameras. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Cameras mounted on the dashboard of police cruisers are nothing new for law enforcement agencies in the state. Cameras mounted on police officers, however, are few and far between.

If everything goes as planned, the Naugatuck Police Department will be one of just a handful of departments in Connecticut to equip its officers with lipstick-style cameras on their uniforms.

“I think they are going to be a great asset to the department, not only to verify the job we do, but it’s also going to protect both the officers and the citizens,” Lt. Brian Newman said. “It will protect the officers from frivolous complaints and it will protect the citizens in ensuring the officers are out there performing to the professional standards we expect of them.”

Newman oversees the department’s second shift. Since January, two officers on the shift have been wear-testing the cameras.

“I think they are a good idea. We are definitely going into the future of police work. I’ve only been on for a year now, but I agree with what [Newman] says about how it protects us and verifies our stories,” said Officer Matt Sulek, one of the two officers testing the cameras.

The cameras are worn near the officer’s face, either on a lapel or on a pair of glasses, so it can pick up what the officer sees and hears. Naugatuck police are testing the cameras worn on the lapels of uniforms.

The department requested money for 12 cameras as part of the borough’s capital projects budget. The cameras cost $1,000 a piece and another $1,000 for access to the cloud, an offsite server, where all the data can be uploaded at the end of an officer’s shift.

“If you don’t purchase the cloud retention program … you would have to build a back-end at the police department to store all the video,” Deputy Chief Joshua Bernegger said.

Currently the proposed budget heading to a public hearing Monday night includes $16,000 for the cameras.

The cameras are made by Arizona-based TASER International, Inc.

“It’s good to go with a company like that because you know that they are the cutting edge and they’re going to continue to raise that bar because their expectations of themselves are much higher than we could possibly have,” Newman said.

Bernegger said TASER will replace the cameras on a three-year rotation.

When the Board of Finance reviewed capital requests in April, Bernegger described the cameras as “a game-changer in law enforcement.” He told the board the department had been considering dashboard cameras for police cruisers but never went forward with them because not everything happens directly in front of the police vehicles.

Bernegger said with the prevalence of technology in society, the cameras allow the department to record the officer’s view of an incident.

“In our society now just about every single person has a video camera on them. It’s on their cell phone,” Bernegger said. “We’re finding, more and more, some of our officers’ interactions on YouTube. And it’s not the way we see it, it’s the way the suspect, perpetrator, person we’re dealing with sees it, and they edit it down to that very small part to make us look bad.”

Bernegger echoed Newman’s sentiments that the cameras will help protect the officers from frivolous complaints. He said studies on the cameras shows a reduction in the number of complaints filed between 20 and 100 percent.

Newman said if an officer searches a vehicle with consent, there can be no question about that consent later since it was given on video.

The studies also showed a reduction in the use of force by officers with cameras, Bernegger said.

“There’s no question that, when a police officer knows what they are doing is being taped, their behavior is a little more accountable,” Bernegger said.

Aside from recording interactions or incidents, Newman added the cameras can also help reduce an officer’s risk of injury.

Newman said officers can sync the cameras to their smart phones, which gives them a live feed of what their camera is seeing. This means the cameras can be used to look around a corner in a dangerous situation without risk to the officer.

Newman said that the cameras are an invaluable training tool as well.

“It’s been very beneficial to us both from a training aspect and recording actual crimes,” Newman said.

If officers are responding to a routine burglar alarm they can review the footage afterwards and use it as a training tool.

“When they have the camera on and they pull up, it shows you how they approach the building. Now we can pull that out and say, hey this is what the officer did. Now we can critique each other and be better at our profession,” Newman said.

At the end of a shift the footage is uploaded to www.evidence.com, a secure website which allows the department to review the footage, Bernegger said. If there is any footage that the department may need in an upcoming case, it is able to store that footage for as long as it needs. The footage can also be sent to the defense or prosecution in a trial via a secure link from the website.

The one thing the department can’t do is tamper with the footage.

“Because the videos are being stored on evidence.com they are unalterable,” Bernegger said. “We can’t access it other than to view and write commentary, such as case numbers or ‘This is where suspect begins to get combative.’”

The cameras constantly buffer what they see, but do not record unless the officer engages it. The constant buffering has the added advantage of being able to record the previous 30 seconds from when the officer set it to record.

Bernegger explained this helps because if the officer only engages the video after an incident takes place, they can still capture the moments leading up to that incident.

The department does not yet have a policy in place as to when the camera needs to be turned on or off, Bernegger said. It is currently left up to the officer’s discretion testing them.

“We are still collaborating and discussing on what best the practice would be,” Bernegger said.

If the money for the cameras is ultimately approved, Bernegger said, the department will look to buy the cameras at the beginning of the 2013-14 fiscal year and establish a set policy then. Chief Christopher Edson, the command staff and himself will make sure a policy regarding their usage is in place, Bernegger said.

Bernegger said there is no legal requirement for officers to notify people that they are being recorded. However, Bernegger pointed out that any citizen has the right to record their interaction with an officer as well.

“These cameras are recording the interaction between the citizen and officer,” Bernegger said. “They are not set up in a public place that is the rhetorical big brother watching citizens.”

Newman said the point of the cameras is ultimately to help the officers better serve the citizens.

“We are going to be able to do a better product for the citizens we work for and, at the same time, it’s going to make sure we adhere to the professional standards they expect of us,” Newman said.

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