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Cost, Privacy Concerns Raised About Police Cameras In Springfield

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  The top cop in Springfield, Massachusetts said he supports body cameras for the city’s police officers but obstacles remain to using the technology. The costs might be prohibitive and there are complex legal issues.

     Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri told members of the city council’s Public Safety Committee that he believes the behavior of police officers, and the behavior of the public, will improve if it is known that there is a video documentation of their interactions.

    "I support cameras. I support body cameras, cruiser cameras, and certainly cell cameras," he said. "The concern has been cost and efficiency and effectiveness."

     Barbieri said he is obtaining final cost estimates to install a camera system to monitor the 60 holding cells in the police station.

      Cameras on uniforms and in cruisers are subjects of contract negotiations between the city and the police unions.

    There are a lot of issues over how body cameras would be used. When would recording begin during a police activity? Can police record inside a private residence without a warrant?  How long is the video from each camera stored? What part of the video, if any, is a public record?

   " These are tremendously complex issues," the police commissioner stated at his appearance before the committee.

    During an interview, Barbieri said he had not determined what it would cost to purchase body cameras or cruiser cameras, but he said he had estimated based on comparisons with other cities that the cost to store the video data from the cameras would be $500,000-$800,000 annually.

   " There is only so much pie to go around," said Barbieri. " I don't want to have body cameras, but not enough ( money) for officers to work overtime or out in the sectors.  I am a big proponent ( of cameras), I do believe at some point the cost will come down. So, I am very hopeful it is going to be in Springfield, hopefully in the very near future."

    City Councilor Tom Ashe, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said at this point the cost may be prohibitive.

   " I think in principle everybody thinks it is a good idea," said Ashe.

    Earlier this year, nine of the 13 city councilors signed a letter to Barbieri and Mayor Domenic Sarno requesting a cost estimate for installing cameras in the prisoner holding cells at the police headquarters. 

    The request was made after questions were raised about the police response to the medical emergency of a prisoner who died of what was later determined to be an aneurism. Also, a video was leaked of a Springfield Police detective’s abusive and threatening interrogation of two teenagers in a holding cell at a suburban police station.

    Police departments in a dozen other local cities and towns have cameras located in the areas where people are held following arrest, according to a survey by MassLive.  But, not all the departments record the images from the cameras, or store the recordings.

   

  

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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