County buys deputy cameras

HUDSON—The Columbia County Board of Supervisors approved a contract to spend $500,000 on body worn cameras for the Sheriff’s Office at its Year End meeting December 30. But some believe more planning is necessary before activating the cameras for the benefit of the community.

Body worn cameras got favorable responses at Police Reform Panel meetings in December. At one such meeting, Stockport Police Chief James Delaney said the cameras “protect the officer, they protect the town, and they protect the individual being interviewed by the police.”

County Sheriff David Bartlett said the cameras allow “additional accountability.” And Greenport Police Chief Kevin Marchetto said they “protect us from lawsuits. It would be nice if insurance companies bought them for us.”

The December 30 supervisors meeting included the subject of purchasing body cameras through Axon Enterprises, Inc., whose price, Sheriff Bartlett reported, would go up 20% on January 1. As a result the board authorized an “agreement with Axon Enterprises, Inc., for $100,000 per year for the purchase of Body Worn Cameras and related equipment/storage,” for five years.

But Supervisor Brenda Adams (D-Canaan) expressed concern that the contract had been thrust upon the supervisors without the usual deliberation. “I believe in body cameras,” she said on January 8, but half a million dollars is “a big commitment,” she added.

Typically the Board of Supervisors discusses large expenditures before voting on them.

‘It would be nice if insurance companies bought them for us.’

Chief Kevin Marchetto

Greenport Police Department

Supervisor Michael Chameides (D-Hudson, 3rd Ward) had additional concerns. “For body cameras to be effective tools, there needs to be a good policy on how to use them,” he said January 7. In some cities and counties that do not have good policies, he continued, the camera footage can be edited before the public or the defendant are allowed to see it, if they get to see it at all.

“Body cameras are a response to a community request, so the community should be involved in forming the policy,” Mr. Chameides said. “We want to include community members, especially those from affected communities.” A good policy should specify, among other things, who should have access to the camera footage when. A group should draft a body camera policy and “ask for feedback from elected officials and the community,” he said. “If you don’t take those steps, it’s a wasted policy.”

Mr. Chameides called for “a great policy that’s unified with the cameras,” adding, “It’s something we can do.”

The regular use of body cameras can take several months to implement, so there is time to develop a policy before, according to the alderman. The Police Reform Panel is scheduled to end April 1, but developing the policy “can be folded into the Public Safety Committee” of the board, Mr. Chameides said. “It’s a matter of doing the work and having the engagement. If we can spend half a million on that, we can certainly have a few meetings about how to use it.”

Axon Enterprises, Inc., based in Scottsdale, AZ. It describes itself as a company that “develops technology and weapon products for military, law-enforcement, and civilian use.” In addition to body worn cameras and other types of cameras it sells the Taser.

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