In early April, Waterford will be the latest police department in Connecticut to equip officers with body cameras while on duty — a change that was mandated to take place no later than July 2022 by the Police Accountability bill passed by the legislature in special session last summer.
“It’s going to protect the officers from allegations that are unfounded, and it’s going to protect the public from what they may perceive as officer misconduct,” Waterford Police Chief Brett Mahoney said.
Mahoney said that in-car cameras have already helped the department respond to complaints, and have allowed the public to see footage of incidents that have been of concern.
“When shown the video of how the incident actually played out, instead of maybe the way they perceived it in their head, they leave satisfied with the officers actions to mitigate things at the lowest level,” Mahoney said.
When citizens do file complaints about an officer, Mahoney is able to review the footage to decide if an officer needs to be disciplined for their behavior. He said that his officers are doing the right thing in the “overwhelming majority” of cases.
Waterford Police Lt. Tim Silva said that already when officers receive a report of a burglary, the department can review the footage from in-car cameras who were in the area at the time, which can lead to a description of a person or vehicle that was near the crime, and in some cases even a full or partial license plate. Body cameras likewise could provide an additional set of eyes.
Departmental policies for when officers must have the cameras activated, and for releasing footage from the cameras, will be based on a model policy drafted by the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council.
Under that guidance, officers are required to have the camera activated at any time they interact with the public, with limited exceptions, including talking to victims of sexual assault and to minors in school.
Mahoney said he was interested in buying body cameras before the police accountability law passed last summer, but didn’t think the cost was worth it.
“When I look at the absolutely insignificant amount of civilian complaints that we get, or complaints about our officers, I tried to balance that with spending taxpayer money on $117,000 worth of equipment with what we get complaints about, and it didn’t weigh out,” Mahoney said. “Now it’s the law, so we don’t have a choice.”
Waterford is not able to take advantage of an older state grant program that reimbursed towns for 50 percent of the cost of the cameras and the first year of storage, but has applied and should be “at the top of the list” for a new grant that covers 30 percent of the cost, Mahoney said.
Mahoney said the cost of buying 49 cameras – one for each officer – and space to store the footage was about $117,000. The department purchased the cameras from WatchGuard, which also supplied the department’s in-car cameras.