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4 NY Localities Get Federal Funds For Police Body Cameras


Four police departments in New York have been awarded U.S. Department of Justice grants to purchase body cameras for officers. 

Following a series of high-profile deaths of civilians in police custody in 2014, President Barack Obama remarked it was time to equip police officers across the nation with body cameras, and that December announced $263 million in funding for law enforcement agencies to purchase them.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, money to buy the cameras is coming from the federal agency's Office of Justice Programs. The agency will also be monitoring the cameras, collecting statistics on their use, gathering data on their effectiveness.

Niagara County Sheriff's deputies have been wearing the devices for three years now.  Sheriff Jim Voutour is president of the New York State Sheriff's Association.  "We just recently, probably about four or five months ago, switched over to a mandatory wear policy, so that everybody that's on patrol has to wear a camera now. And the reason we did that was because there were some significant events that happened that weren't recorded."

The Albany Police Department has been awarded $133,305. An individual camera costs roughly $500.-Chief Brendan Cox tells Time Warner Cable News he thinks recordings could augment evidence in street crime cases, notably the taser death of Donald Ivy earlier this year and the recent confrontation between an officer and a street musician downtown.  "I think the body cameras would help in any investigation,  but certainly when it comes to a street encounter, yes. I think it would. You know it would've given us the point of view hopefully to be able to tell us the story that occurred in both of those with, you know, from the beginning to the end."

Cox hopes to have all 120 of Albany's patrol officers wearing body cams eventually. Spring Valley, White Plains and Rochester are also receiving grants.

Voutour believes it’s just a matter of time before every cop is issued a camera.   "I think it is inevitable. We use it as evidence against defendants, particularly DWI, those types of things. And in this day and age, juries demand more and more video and more and more technology when they evaluate a case. Simply because of what they see on TV."

Several high-level public officials, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, are calling for every police department in the country to outfit officers with body cameras.

But many questions remain, such as: how much video will be stored, and how? Who will have access to it? And what happens if there is a malfunction?

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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