State Police Step Away as Towns Face State Mandate on Body Cams

Towns served by the resident trooper program learned last month that Connecticut State Police will no longer store and administer dashboard camera footage for individual departments, and will also leave the departments to find their own solutions for storing body camera footage required as part of the Police Accountability Bill passed last summer in special session. 

State Police Col. Stavros Mellekas sent notification to the 55 towns served by at least one resident state trooper. Towns are required to outfit their constables with cameras by July 2022. 

“Please know that DESPP State Police shall not be responsible for the purchase or storage of data from dashboard cameras or body work cameras for any Resident Trooper Town Constables,” Col. Mellekas explained in a letter to town officials. “DESPP State Police will also not be responsible for the associated costs in fulfilling [freedom of information] requests associated with any Resident Trooper Town Constables’ camera footage.”

The letter does not say when the state police will cease to manage the dashboard camera footage for towns, or if the new policy applies to the resident troopers themselves, or just the constables in a town. The state police could not provide CT Examiner with answers to those questions after a week of inquiries.

Tim Griswold, the first selectman of Old Lyme, told CT Examiner that when lawmakers passed the wide-ranging police accountability bill last summer, he had hoped the state police would expand service and start storing the footage from the body cameras. Old Lyme is served by one resident trooper and six constables.

Griswold said he hadn’t gotten official quotes for the cost of storage and managing requests for footage, but had heard estimates in the range of $50,000 to $70,000.

“It’s kind of a dilemma, because all the towns are scurrying around, trying to figure out what we’re going to do,” said Griswold. 

State Sen. Norm Needleman, the first selectman of Essex said that it was “very disappointing” that the state police could not work out an arrangement with resident trooper towns to charge them a fee to continue storing footage for them. Essex also participates in the resident trooper program.

Needleman said he understood why the state police would be reluctant to store body camera footage for a few hundred local officers across dozens of resident trooper towns, but he said that most towns would have likely agreed to pay a fee for the service.

“It would have made sense to come up with a price, put in the extra staff at the state police, and then store the camera footage there,” said Needleman.

Needleman said that in Essex, Freedom Of Information requests for footage are reviewed by town attorneys, costing the town each time there is a request.

He said that the other cost would be to find space to store the large amount of video data created when multiple officers are wearing body cameras. Needleman said that the town is considering installing its own servers, or using cloud storage for the video.

Griswold wondered, if the state police weren’t willing to handle the service, whether a private company could manage the footage for several towns at a reduced cost.

He also questioned why the cost should fall to the towns.

“The legislature passed this accountability legislation, creating yet another unfunded mandate, and now the towns have to scurry around and implement the mechanics of it,” Griswold said. “So, thanks a lot.”

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