The Syracuse Police department will soon begin the process of outfitting one hundred officers with body cameras under a pilot program approved Monday by common councilors. It appears both the community and officers are asking for the devices.
First Deputy Chief Joe Cecile says the field trial agreement with Axon corporation is free of charge, and builds upon a separate, earlier effort with a handful of officers.
"We get to try out the cameras, we get to try out the storage for a full year. Also, to see what it takes for the police department to manage 100 cameras. Keep in mind our previous pilot program was 16 cameras, so this will be a huge undertaking."
Cecile says it will also give them a gauge on storage fees for all that footage, especially if they want to outfit all 400 officers. He says the pilot program could also open the door for grants to pay the 164-thousand dollar annual cost if they choose to continue beyond the one-year trial. Cecile says the plan seems to have community support…
"They feel safer if the officers have them on so the cameras are keeping track of everything that goes on during an interaction. Officers are now asking for them for the same reason. They want everything tracked when they interact with the public, so there's a benefit. But beyond that, they become evidence if we have say if they have a foot chase or some other crime in front of us, just like any of our footage from our COPS cameras that are stationary."
Those are the ones posted on utility poles across the city. Cecile says they’re putting the final touches on policy guidelines for the bodycams and the footage they gather.
"We had to overcome certain times when they would need to turn the cameras off. Certainly if you're the victim of a sex crime or some other witness who doesn't want to appear on camera but is giving you valuable information. We had to work through all those things, but I think we have them covered in the rules and regulations."
Councilor-at-large Khalid Bey says only the chief of police should be the only person to decide when to turn off a camera.
"There's never a moment that an officer should turn the camera off. The whole logic behind the camera is to assure that nothing is happening, and the first thing you don't want to do is look suspicious by turning the camera off. Police officers are always in tight situations. A lot of those situations often contain information and/or material that is always personal to somebody. But that is the nature of the job."
Bey says the cameras would collect the same information an officer might take down in their notes. He says cameras add a level of comfort and security for both residents and officers in cases of questionable behavior by either party. But he says the footage could also be used to prove the efficiency of officers.
"You don't have to have a crisis to validate the camera. But if you can demonstrate that officers are operating in a way that is becoming of an officer, then we win in that scenario as well. In fact, that is the preferred scenario."
The police department will be ordering the cameras and hopes to outfit the one hundred officers by early next month.