PROSPECT — The Prospect Police Department is among the growing number of law enforcement agencies that are using body cameras.
For nearly a year, Prospect officers have been required to wear and use body-worn cameras throughout their shifts.
“It has opened up new avenues of communication. In the past, if the people didn’t like the way an officer handled themselves, it was their word against the officer’s,” Lt. Nelson Abarzua said.
Abarzua, the safety director for Prospect, said the department made the decision to equip its officers with cameras in light of high profile cases across the country involving accusations of excessive use of force by police officers.
“The option was either the in-vehicle cameras or the body cameras. After weighing the pros and cons we decided that the best option for the town would be body cameras. That way every contact with the public is properly recorded,” Abarzua said.
Abarzua said the dashboard cameras have limitations on what they can record since they only point at what is in front of the car.
The body cameras, which the department bought from the Arizona-based TASER International, Inc., are worn either on a lapel or a pair of sunglasses so it can record from the officer’s point of view.
Prospect police officers are wearing the lipstick-style cameras on their lapels. The department currently has five cameras and every officer is required to wear one during his or her shift.
According to TASER, the cameras are constantly running and have a 30-second buffer. However, the camera only records and stores video when it is turned on by the officer. This means when an officer turns on the camera, the previous 30 seconds of footage is also saved.
Once the officer returns, the camera is immediately placed in a docking station to charge and the footage is uploaded to Evidence.com, TASER’s server.
According to TASER, once the video has been uploaded only select individuals can access it. Any time someone accesses the video their information is logged on to the metadata of the video.
Abarzua said the decision to begin using the body cameras was made to ensure the safety of all parties.
“The cameras are there to protect the public and the officer,” Abarzua said.
Abarzua said the department’s rules regarding the use of the video camera were crafted after other departments that have been using body cameras, such as Naugatuck, which has had them in use since 2013.
Abarzua said the department also implemented the rules of Senate Bill 1109 regarding the excessive use of force by law enforcement and the use of body cameras. The bill, which passed the senate on June 2, would require all state troopers to wear a camera.
The bill requires state troopers to use the camera during interactions with the public. However, it also stipulates when the camera should not be used, such as during communications with other officers or during encounters with informants.
Abarzua said the department uses the same rules for officers in Prospect.
Mayor Robert Chatfield said he was sold on using body cameras immediately.
“I was sold on it as soon as Nelson came up and made the proposition,” Chatfield said. “They’re far better because they are with the police officer at all times. The old one sitting on the dash doesn’t show what is going on other places.”
Abarzua said investing in the body cameras could save the town money in the long run.
“The reason I pushed for it was in case we had any problems in the future. I guess you can say we got ahead of the ball by saving the town money in case you had a lawsuit or complaints,” Abarzua said.
Abarzua said the officers were hesitant about using the cameras at first, but soon warmed up.
“Human nature is to have reservations about new technology. However, when they read the rules and understood the reasons behind them, they are all for it,” Abarzua said. “Especially the era we are living in now, it is both a plus for the citizens and a plus for the officers.”