The city of Schenectady is beginning the process of outfitting police officers with body cameras.
On Monday, the Schenectady City Council voted to accept a $165,000 grant, along with a local match, for cameras and equipment to outfit the Electric City's 154 officers. The department is now considering camera options and trying to determine policy. By the end of February, a handful of officers are expected to begin field testing different makes and models. Assistant Chief Michael Seber: "There are a lot of new systems on the market. Technology keeps on changing and as it changes it offers a different variety of cameras, different types of recordings and downloading and storage of the date, so we are going to look at as many as needed, but definitely try upwards of six or eight different systems to really get a system that is compatible with what we want and mainly put the storage capability and the availability to research the data quickly as well as produce it in a redacted form if necessary, and/or for the courts."
In addition to product evaluation, Seber says there are many questions surrounding the legality of body cameras. "Mostly when we enter someone's home, obviously that right to privacy, there's certain things that we would not want to expose, victims' house or even suspects for that matter, so we're gonna look at the laws and see how they're applicable to the policy that we write."
Seber believes body cameras will serve as a tool of trust between police officers and the community. "A picture is worth a thousand words. In this case we can document the incident both from an investigative standpoint, and if there is a personal complaint obviously we can quickly establish if there's right or wrongdoings on a particular call. So it puts quick closure on it, which also helps the officer as well as any type of complaints we receive."
The rollout of body cams is not following a strict timetable. "We wanna make sure we experiment with as many cameras as we can to make sure we get the right technology, research the laws, make sure we write a solid policy that's acceptable in court and protects peoples' rights. We're hopeful by the end of next summer, early, early fall, to roll it out department wide."
Meantime, after two years of preparation, the Albany Police Department body camera program went live in early November, thanks to a $133,000 grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance. APD solicited community input with a series of meetings and forums that helped draft policy.
Twenty officers on the force tested four different brands of cameras during a pilot program to determine the best option. The department selected the Axon Body 2 model. Acting Chief Robert Sears: "We're going to be doing a very slow, methodical implementation process so as not to overwhelm the system, and/or our I.T. infrastructure, to make sure that everything is up and running as we implement this moving forward."
They're phasing in the cams 10 officers at a time. Sears says the Axons are lightweight and very unlikely to restrict officers’ movements. "It was very easy for them to use. Very user-friendly. It just scored the highest out of all of our survey categories."
But Sears admits the devices are not perfect. "They're not gonna solve every problem that we think they're gonna solve. But I truly believe that they will help for accuracy of things."
Seber expects his agency will have an advantage in establishing body camera protocol, as the Albany Police Department will share with Schenectady resources and information it gathered leading up to the deployment of body cameras.