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NY AG Announces Program To Provide Funding For Police Body Cameras

Dave Lucas
Axon body camera system.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has announced the creation of a new program that will provide funding to for law enforcement agencies to outfit officers with body cameras.

The attorney general says the $2 million “CAMS” program will be funded with money recovered from organized crime busts.  CAMS is an acronym for "Capture an Account of a Material Situation."

In a press release, Underwood says body cameras “ensure  increased accountability and transparency during law enforcement interactions” but local departments often can’t afford them.

The devices have become standard issue in many police departments. Saratoga Springs Police became one of the first upstate departments to incorporate bodycams, rolling them out in a 2012 pilot program.

Former Albany Police Chief Robert Sears, who retired July 27th, says the devices aren't 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."

Albany has repeatedly touted its community policing initiative. City police began wearing body cameras in November 2017, following of months of product evaluation and preparation that included gathering input from residents at community meetings.  Alice Green, Executive Director of The Center For Law and Justice, expressed 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."

The Fulton County city of Gloversville deployed body cameras in February 2017 following two successful trial programs.  Police Captain Mike Scott told WAMC at the time that cameras and recorded video help put administrators back where the officers were when reviewing an incident.     “And to get the whole story. It doesn’t take place of witness statements or the officer’s accounts, of that nature. I think it’s just a truer picture of the incident.”

Under the attorney general’s new program, agencies with between 130 and 3,000 sworn officers can apply to receive between $70,000 and $150,000 grant funding to purchase the cameras.

Poughkeepsie and Kingston are among upstate cities excluded under those guidelines. City Administrator Marc Nelson tells WAMC’s Hank Gross:   “Not to take anything away from the cops on the beat in the bigger cities, but New York state is a big state and we are not all big cities, so don’t forget about us."

The Attorney General's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For more information on the CAMS program and for police agencies wishing to access the online application,  visit: https://ag.ny.gov/cams-program.

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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