New policy requires officers to video any professional interaction
NAUGATUCK — A year after borough officers began wearing cameras on their uniforms, the Naugatuck Police Department has no buyer’s remorse.
“Primarily it has been a fantastic tool for the collection of evidence. The state’s attorney’s office at the Waterbury courthouse has requested our video countless times for cases,” Deputy Police Chief Joshua Bernegger said. “I think [Lt.] Bryan Cammarata has been forwarding videos up to the prosecutor’s office for review at least every other week. That’s been very successful. They’ve been using them to help prosecute cases.”
Officers first started wearing the lipstick-style body cameras on their lapels in October 2013. Since then videos of cases ranging from DUI stops to domestic dispute interviews to officers making arrests have been taken.
The videos are an important part of the prosecution, Bernegger said, because they show the events as they happened, rather than solely relying on testimony.
“It takes a lot of the he said, she said out of it,” Bernegger said.
When the department first implemented the cameras, how to use them was left to the discretion of officers. The department put a new policy into place on Dec. 16 that requires officers to turn on their cameras any time they are interacting with public in a professional capacity.
“If they’re getting dispatched to a call or having a proactive encounter in a law enforcement capacity it will be on. That does not include chatting with somebody on the Green. It has to be a law enforcement-related professional capacity,” Bernegger said.
At the end of a shift officers place the cameras in a charging dock at the department and the footage shot that day begins uploading. The video is uploaded to a secure, offsite host. The officer is able to make notes about the video, but the video is unable to be edited in any way.
All videos stay on the server for 120 days before they are automatically deleted, Bernegger said. However, if the video is marked for retention it is kept until the department manually deletes it.
Bernegger said the cameras have been seen as an asset by the majority of officers at the department.
“I would say 90 percent of our officers are fully on board; especially the younger officers who are extremely accustomed to growing up with cameras and technology. This has not been any significant change for them in their life. For our more tenured officers this is a significant deviation from the way they learned how to do the job,” Bernegger said.
Although the new policy recently went into effect, Bernegger said, officers have been using the cameras because they understand they are for their benefit.
“They do understand it is there to protect them primarily and to hold both themselves and the public accountable for what does occur. I think they understand they are pretty much on camera from one direction or another when they are doing their job. There are cameras out there all over the place. Whether it is in somebody’s hands or on the wall or side of the building, we are being filmed all the time. So this simply makes sense to protect ourselves and record something from our point of view,” Bernegger said.
Bernegger said the cameras have helped alleviate some complaints against officers. He said when someone makes a complaint a supervisor will sit down with them and review the video.
“More often than not, I’d say 99 percent of the time, they’ve walked out satisfied. Sometimes it’s not so much they are lying to us and filing a false complaint as their perception of the incident at the time is very different than what appeared on film because they are dealing with their emotions, this is a difficult time for them, and they didn’t like what the officer had to say. But once they calmed down and were able to take a look at the video and see again how the officer said things and how they acted and behaved, they realize it wasn’t as they perceived in their state of emotional distress,” Bernegger said.
In addition to helping alleviate complaints, Bernegger said, the cameras help to save the department money.
Before the department deployed cameras, he said, when a person made a complaint against an officer the department would have to open an internal affairs investigation and could wind up in court — cost the department time and money.
“We allow the officer to review the video first, but certainly we do invite the citizen to also view the video themselves. Often times that in and of itself satisfies the situation and everybody walks away happy. And that pays for itself right there,” Bernegger said.
Bernegger said most times people do not know they are on camera when they interact with an officer. The officer will tell a person if it is relevant to the situation or will confirm it if a person asks, he said.
Bernegger has noticed the reaction to using the cameras has split across generational lines. He said older generations are not used to being recorded, while younger generations grew up with video cameras.
“I always find myself being very careful when I am speaking on camera because I know I’m nervous of saying something wrong that might be misinterpreted. I don’t think our younger generation has that fear. They’ve grown up with various technologies, many with cameras. They’re used to being on film from day one, with Facebook and Xbox Connect. Cameras don’t scare them nearly as much. I think, as time progresses, more and more of society will be very comfortable with the camera,” Bernegger said.
While many people are not used to being filmed by the police, if they are not doing anything wrong they will have nothing to be concerned about, Bernegger said.
The same goes for the officers.
“If everybody is just a good human being and acting appropriately, cameras are no issue whatsoever. That’s what we tell our officers. If you are doing your job correctly and professionally, forget about them because they are there to protect you. If you are out there taking shortcuts and doing things wrong the camera is going to hang you,” Bernegger said.