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    Saturday, August 13, 2022

    Stonington police deploy body and cruiser cameras

    Stonington — All police and animal control officers here are now outfitted with body cameras, and cameras have been installed in most cruisers. 

    Capt. Todd Olson said Wednesday that over the past three weeks the police department has conducted a "soft opening" with the cameras to allow officers to get used to activating them and then properly labeling recordings, assigning case numbers and performing other administrative tasks with the files. 

    Olson said the department had been working toward purchasing and deploying the cameras even before the General Assembly passed the Police Accountability Law in 2020, which required police departments to deploy body cameras. The town is now allocating $464,187 over the next five years to pay for the cameras and cloud storage. In addition, the department has hired its former records clerk Diana Demarco as its police support specialist. She will oversee camera management, record keeping and Freedom of Information Act requests for video from the cameras. 

    "The benefit of this is the transparency. It sheds a very clear light so we can see what happened good or bad," Olson said. "It will also clarify questions someone from the public may have."

    Olson said officers are required to activate their cameras when they respond to any call for service, which involves all interactions with the public. The cameras also have a buffering feature in which they record for 30 seconds before officers activate them.

    "They are good for the officers and good for the public," he said.

    Olson said officers have been very receptive to wearing the cameras and have been doing "a terrific job" labeling and performing the administrative work connected to the recordings. He said the labeling is especially important, because the type of incident determines how long the recordings need to be stored.

    He said cameras have been installed in cruisers as well, and will be installed in the four new cruisers the department will soon receive.

    Olson said video can now be sent to New London Superior Court much more efficiently when needed in a case.

    "The public should be aware that everything they say and do when interacting with law enforcement will now be part of their case. It's good for everyone all the way around," he said.

    Redaction software will allow the department to blur the faces of victims, witnesses, minors and license plates if needed before releasing the video to the public. If someone requests a body cam video, Olson said the person will be charged the nominal cost of the CD it is placed on but no administrative fee.

    He said the department will work to get videos out in a timely fashion when they are requested by the public. "We want to be transparent when something happens," he said. "We will work as quickly as we can to provide them to the public." 

    Olson said the cameras also have a training benefit for officers. He said the system conducts a random audit of videos each month that sergeants and lieutenants will review. They can make comments on each interaction and these get sent to the officers involved.

    State Rep. Greg Howard, R-43rd District, who is also a Stonington police detective and ranking member of the legislature's Public Safety Committee, said Wednesday that "body cameras are great not only for the officers but people making a complaint because they tell the truth and eliminate any misconceptions or misstatements."

    He added that his only initial concern is that activating them may distract officers but he said doing so will eventually become second nature for the officers, like operating any other equipment.


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