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Waterford allocates funding to purchase police body cameras

Waterford — At a time when such equipment is in high demand, the town has moved closer to acquiring body cameras for its police officers.

Last week, the Board of Selectmen agreed to allocate about $110,000 to buy body cameras, servers and video redaction software. The selectmen agreed last week to waive the bidding process and award the contract to Allen, Texas-based WatchGuard Video, which supplies in-car video systems and body cameras to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website.

The total cost, though, is expected to be about $55,000 because the department has been told it will receive a $55,000 state grant for the camera system.

In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests nationwide, Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order in June addressing police use of force and accountability. The order prohibits Connecticut State Police from using chokeholds and certain other tactics, mandates changes in use-of-force policies for state police, requires body cameras for every state trooper by Jan. 1, and puts an indefinite hold on state acquisition of military equipment from the federal government.

Police body cameras became a national issue five years ago following publicized police shootings, such as that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. By 2016, nearly half of U.S. law enforcement agencies had body-worn cameras, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey, the Pew Charitable Trusts wrote in a January 2020 article.

In March, Police Chief Brett Mahoney told The Day that police have been interested in implementing body cameras for about three years, but the department waited to ask for funding until it seemed likely the expenditure would be approved. He said it is time for the department to begin using body cameras to ensure transparency.

 “It's 2020, the technology is available, and it's becoming commonplace across the nation,” Mahoney said. "I've been in law enforcement for 30 years. I think it's a sad referendum on where we are. But if we don't have video, then we're less believable.”

The $110,000 includes server and installation costs the department did not anticipate. During last week’s meeting, First Selectman Rob Brule asked Mahoney to explain the higher price.

Mahoney said police need redaction software to go with the cameras in case civilians involved in police interactions need to be anonymous, such as juveniles or victims of sexual assault. He said police later learned they need a separate computer for the software because it doesn’t work on the department’s existing server.

Waterford police already use car cameras and will link them to the new body cameras.

“The reason I’m requesting a bid waiver is because the body cameras will work with the in-car cameras so when you turn your emergency lights on, the body cameras go on automatically,” Mahoney said.

The department cannot connect the two camera systems unless they use WatchGuard.

“Additionally, when multiple officers show up at one scene, GPS positions them together in their in-car video as well as their body cameras and pushes it into one event so that all of those videos are streamed together in an easily recognizable source,” Mahoney added.

Earlier this month, WatchGuard was bought by Motorola Solutions, although WatchGuard will remain intact. WatchGuard has recently unveiled a new body camera system, increasing its price. 

Mahoney said police want to purchase the new technology so that they don’t have to come back to the town asking for more money in the near future. Police placed the order for body cameras on Friday.

Selectwoman Beth Sabilia asked Mahoney about a timeframe for implementation at last week’s meeting.

“As soon as we can make a purchase we will because, as you can imagine with the tenor of the country, we’re not the only game in town that’s buying body cameras as fast as they can make them,” Mahoney said. “As long as they are available to purchase, I’d say it’ll take two months and we’ll be up and going.”

Sabilia also inquired about whether the department will be able to seamlessly make body camera video publicly available in situations like Freedom of Information requests.

“I’m not selling you a bill of goods here, there’s going to be some officers who forget to turn them on — having a camera on you constantly is going to be a change for everybody involved,” Mahoney said.

The department complies with FOI requests for car camera videos and will do the same with body cameras, Mahoney added. He also mentioned seeking union support for the body cameras while preparing for the purchase and assured the selectmen, “The officers want these.”

Body cameras will allow residents and police to look at an interaction. Footage should act as a check on police “when we do things that we're not supposed to be doing,” Mahoney said in March. But the cameras can also absolve officers of wrongdoing if they've been falsely accused, he said.

s.spinella@theday.com

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