Dash and body cams test police departments' budgets

Published on Saturday, 18 November 2017 21:36
Written by LISA BACKUS


NEW BRITAIN - Within a year of the police department’s installing cameras on the dashboards of all its patrol cruisers, Chief James Wardwell had to spend $22,000 on computer server storage space and $8,300 on an extended maintenance agreement.

Since 2013, he’s spent close to $200,000 from grant and drug-asset forfeiture money to have 47 cameras installed and the videos generated stored. Not a dime of city money has been spent on the initiative, he said.

But he’s had to scrimp and save and buy the cameras in waves, some in late 2013, some in early 2016, and some in late 2016, finally getting them in every front-line cruiser this year.

“I do believe they are beneficial to show exactly what occurs in traffic stops or other interactions where the vehicle (police cruiser) is involved,” Wardwell said.

He concedes that it’s an expensive venture that would likely break the budget if the department were required to get body cameras, which require far more video storage space. But he says the cameras, which are activated during traffic stops and other incidents involving police cars, are valuable tools that his department needs to maintain the public’s trust.

“There will be ongoing costs,” Wardwell said. “This is not an inexpensive thing to do. But it’s important to the officers and it’s important to the community.”

Not every area department is willing to foot the bill. Berlin police removed their body cameras in early 2016 after determining that the cost of storing the video the generated was too high. Others are now trying to figure out the most cost-effective long-term way of maintaining the use of dash cams and body cams.

Southington police were able to acquire 68 body cams in 2012 through a donation.

The videos those cameras have generated have been stored on a computer server at headquarters. But the department is now looking at a leasing program that would not only replace their old cameras with new ones, but also include storage space in the “cloud,” a way of managing digital data that spreads information over several servers maintained by a service provider, Southington Sgt. Jeffrey Dobratz said.

“Based on the research we have been doing, leasing makes more sense because you are automatically getting new cameras with the lease,” Dobratz said.

His department doesn’t have a price tag on how much it would cost to replace all 68 cameras with the lease program. “We are still looking at that,” he said.

Bristol Police Lt. Richard Guerrera said his department signed a five-year contract in January 2016 that included body cams and new Tasers for patrol officers.

It also included unlimited cloud storage and the costs of maintaining equipment and software.

Halfway through the contract, Guerrera said, police will receive new body cams, which he assumes will be technologically advanced.

“They’re very effective,” said Guerrera, who is in charge of all the department’s internal affairs investigations.

With the use of the body cameras, he said, more often than not, officers are cleared of any wrongdoing in complaints filed by civilians. On a few occasions, though, the camera footage, which includes accompanying audio, has validated a complaint and appropriate disciplinary action was taken, he said.

Having the cameras seems to have reduced the number of complaints filed against officers, he said, “but they also allow us to see things that may not be directly related to a complaint, but it might be something an officer isn’t doing correctly, and we can then go over some retraining.”

Staff writer Justin Muszynski contributed to this story.

Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or lbackus@centralctcommunications.com. Follow Lisa Backus on Twitter @LbackusNBH.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, General News, New Britain, Southington Herald on Saturday, 18 November 2017 21:36. Updated: Saturday, 18 November 2017 21:38.