HUDSON—Columbia County sheriff’s deputies began receiving body cameras on March 30, according to Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant John Rivero. The deputies underwent training on how to use the cameras March 29 and by April 14 all “full-time uniformed” Columbia County deputies were wearing the devices.
What remains to be determined are the policies that ultimately will determine how the cameras should be used.
On April 6 the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee authorized the county Sheriff’s Office to start using body cameras according to a “policy set forth by the Sheriff’s Office.”
The policy is based on the state’s basic guidelines for the cameras. But county civilians and officials have cautioned against using the cameras without a program based on more thorough research and consideration by the local community. And state guidelines encourage localities to customize the policies for their own needs. So the Public Safety Committee designated the state’s base policy as “interim” and called for a new Police Reform Implementation Committee to begin studying body cameras within 60 days, in order to determine how and whether to adjust the state guidelines for the county.
The balancing act is between “thoroughness” in determining how to use body cameras and “swiftness” in actually starting to use them, observed Michael Chameides (D), who is both Supervisor of Hudson’s 3rd Ward and Aide to Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson.
Body cameras can provide additional evidence of what really happened during an encounter between police officers and civilians, but only if set up to ensure as much accuracy and impartiality as possible. According to the City of Hudson’s police reform report, a 2017 survey found that “top prosecutor offices” were more likely to have used body camera results to prosecute civilians than to prosecute police.
On December 30 last year, the Board of Supervisors approved a contract to purchase body cameras for the Sheriff’s Office from Axon Enterprises Inc., at a cost of $100,000. At that time Mr Chameides and other members of the community understood that the county would develop a policy for using the cameras before actually putting them to use.
But on April 6, Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Louis Bray said, “We have the devices, we have been trained to use them, and we might miss something if they sit on the shelf for months.
”Do you think this will meet expectations?” asked Supervisor Brenda Adams (D-Canaan). “I have gotten calls from people concerned about this being implemented without committee review. Are we doing this at the expense of public trust?” she asked.
“What will be the consequences, positive and negative, of waiting until the development of a local plan?” somebody asked.
“I have no concerns that we’re jumping the gun,” said Supervisor Jeanne Mettler (D-Copake), who added, “We need the cameras used as soon as possible. They work to the benefit of all concerned.”
Supervisor Michael Benvenuto (R-Ghent) pointed out that other communities have used the state plan. “We have a policy. It was developed by New York State. I’m comfortable with it. Sheriff [David] Bartlett is comfortable with it.” Besides, noted Mr. Benvenuto, the state policy includes a requirement for regular review.
But at hearings to develop the county’s police reform plan, speakers kept reiterating the importance of constraining the use of body cameras by a well-designed program.
“Having a bad body camera policy is a serious risk to the public,” Mr. Chameides said. “There have been uproars” over incidents involving police, civilians and body cameras when there is no clear policy about releasing what the cameras show.
Mr. Chameides, in an April 3 memo and a conversation April 9, also said that body cameras were “meant to improve transparency and community trust.” But, he said, “It’s not clear that the interim policy provides the best public safety. My hope is that the Implementation Committee will meet as soon as possible.”
Supervisor Robert Beaury (R-Germantown), on April 6, noted that once something is out in practice, it is hard to change. Still, he acknowledged that the Sheriff’s Office and the police union would have a say in the final policy.
‘Are we doing this at the expense of public trust?’
Supv. Brenda Adams (D)
Town of Canaan
Both Supervisor Mettler and Supervisor Tistrya Houghtling (D-New Lebanon ) said they expected the Implementation Committee to start deliberating promptly, before approving the resolution.
With an amendment drafted by Supervisor Houghtling, the resolution “authorizes the use of body-worn cameras per the policy set forth by the Sheriff’s Office, as a temporary and interim policy, with the understanding that the Implementation Committee and the Sheriff will work together within 60 days on coming up with a revised policy.”
Lieutenant Bray reiterated that the policy is strictly interim, “so I don’t want you to pigeonhole us into saying this is the policy we will work with in the future. Our plan is to integrate this with our in-car camera system policy and make them both similar.”
Mr. Chameides’ April 3 memo mentioned several points to consider in developing a body camera policy. His recommendations include:
• Opting out of all of Axon’s data sharing
• Banning manipulation of camera footage, including “zooming, cropping, slowing motion, and graphical overlays.”
The City of Hudson Police Department has put specific body camera use recommendations in its police reform plan. The HPD had not responded by press deadline to a call seeking the department’s body camera start date.