After two years of preparation, the Albany Police Department body camera program goes live next week.
In the summer of 2015, the Albany Police Department applied for a grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance for a body-worn camera program. In September of that year, the $133,000 award came through, boosted with matching funds. Police solicited community input with a series of meetings and forums that helped draft policy.
Acting Albany Police Chief Robert Sears says officers will be equipped with body cameras beginning Monday. 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. "We will begin training all of our patrol officers to wear the camera. 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'll be phased in 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."
Sears added that battery life and storage capabilities weighed heavily in selecting Axon. "We're promised 12 hours of recording time, and each camera will hold up to 24 hours of video before it is downloaded. So it should cover more than one shift."
250 cameras will cost the department $280,000 a year to maintain. Alice Green, Executive Director of The Center For Law and Justice, said earlier this year she had concerns about how the devices might alter the police-community dynamic. "I think what we need to do is focus more on systemic changes in policing. We need to make sure the police are trained in things like implicit bias and procedural justice and how to respect all people equally. Those are the things that we like to see focused on. Body cams can be useful in certain limited situations, but they're definitely not a panacea."
Sears, who has been welcoming of community involvement, 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."
Sears notes that eyewitnesses accounts are not always accurate. Many times people will remember something and they truly remember it that way. But it really isn't the way it happened.
Policy has been established determining how videos are saved and stored. "Every video will be saved for a minimum of 180 days. There are a few categories that we will save forever. Arrests. Use of force situations, if someone makes a civilian complaint." Those files will be manually deleted when deemed appropriate.
Sears says the body cams won't result in any changes to policies and procedures already in place. Officers will be able to review their own videos, and tweaks to procedure will be made as needed.
The cameras will not be turned on during routine vehicle patrols or during community events. Center Station has received the first batch of cameras with South Station to follow.