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New London police still working on getting body cameras

New London — It was 2015 when the city took its first step toward equipping its police officers with body cameras.

That first step, a $100,000 approval by the City Council for funding of cameras at the urging of former Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, came at a time when it seemed the use of the cameras would become standard operating procedure across the state.

The implementation has been slower than expected in New London but police Capt. Brian Wright said a camera program is on the horizon. He expects officers will be equipped with cameras by next summer. Funding, negotiations with the union and a review of policies on how cameras will be used have been a few of the hurdles.

Wright said the department is seeking volunteers for a working group composed of members of each of the department’s divisions in a “diligent and deliberate” process to develop policies and procedures, such as when cameras must be turned on and how video is stored. The union, Wright said, is a partner in the process.

“It’s important to have everyone vested,” he said.

Wright said the ultimate goal is to provide for better transparency, and cameras have been proven to help departments avoid frivolous lawsuits while providing officer accountability and improving relations with the public.

Wright said there are also challenges, such as protecting individuals' right to privacy and compliance with state Freedom of Information laws related to release of videos. A new law passed this year provides quicker timelines on release of videos to the public.

Storage and maintenance of the videos is one of the major costs of the program, Wright said, along with the personnel to manage it. And while state reimbursement rates have decreased over the years, he said he was confident the department would find ways to finance the program.

Norwich recently approved $300,000 in funding for body cameras and cruiser cams, taking advantage of a 50 percent state reimbursement program that ends June 30. Groton Town, Ledyard and Mashantucket police already use body cameras.

New London City Council Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Alma Nartatez said while the council has approved a grant for body cameras, infrastructure such as storage, training and resources was not in place to support the equipment. City Grant Coordinator Elizabeth Nocera said the grants available to date have been for smaller amounts and used to cover costs of other public safety-related equipment.

“My opinion is that we need to implement body cameras and follow the lead of Norwich,” Nartatez said. “This means it needs to be added in the budget.”

Estimated costs of the program in New London were not immediately available but union members, who continue to lobby for more police officers, are keeping a close watch on department expenditures.

Union President Todd Lynch said the union is not opposed to cameras but would have an issue with any large appropriation that favors cameras over manpower.

“If the city finds $1 million, we would hope that money goes towards filling the 80-officer ordinance long before it goes towards body cameras,” he said.

The City Council in 2014 passed an ordinance mandating 80 officers at the department, with the recognition that the increase would be done incrementally. The City Council subsequently has approved funding for new officers, and several have been hired, but those numbers to some degree have been offset by retirements and departures from the department.

Lynch said he thinks the departments is under 70 officers, not enough to avoid officers being ordered to stay on for a second shift after theirs has ended. Case in point, he said, was on Friday when two officers working day shift were ordered to also work the night shift.

“We need bodies,” Lynch said. “A body camera is not going to get to your home to save your life, lessen response time ... or prevent drug trafficking. This is done with manpower.”

He said the union will continue to work with the mayor and chief administrative officer toward implementation of the program but urges the city to “walk and not run down the hill.”

“They’re nice to have but not a necessity. A necessity is manpower, which we are drastically short on,” Lynch said.

Wright said that police Chief Peter Reichard remains committed to the program and points out that New London does have cameras in cruisers that record inside and outside the vehicles, along with audio recorders.

He said the department is taking notes on policies of surrounding departments to ensure best practices are followed in New London while avoiding any shortcomings at other departments.

“We want to be able to implement them in a manner that is diligent and we don’t want to hit any obstacles that should have been worked out,”’ Wright said.


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