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Watervliet rolls out police body camera program

An Axon body-worn camera displays red lights while recording
Lucas Willard
An Axon body-worn camera displays red lights while recording

The Albany County City of Watervliet has begun a police body camera program.

Each officer, detective, and command officer on the force this month was outfitted with a camera.

During a press conference Wednesday, Watervliet Public Information Officer Mathieu Cusson said the cameras are always on and can be switched to record with the press of a button…

“So, once I do, I press it twice…now it’s recording. It’s recording video, it’s recording audio…”

The high-resolution cameras can also be activated when an officer removes their gun from its holster. The cameras include a stealth record mode, GPS, wireless connectivity and unlimited cloud storage.

Police showed footage captured from two recent incidents. One clip shown to reporters portrayed a May apartment building fire on Starbuck Island.

The other showed two different angles of a recent interaction between police and city residents, where a dog was tackled after biting an officer.

“That’s a screengrab. Clearly, the officer is being attacked by the dog.”

The rollout of 25 cameras comes after a pilot program in January.

Watervliet Police Chief Joseph Centanni, who became chief in the spring of 2021, said establishing a body camera program was one of his short-term goals.

“I am confident our body-worn camera program will help to address crime and disorder issues, assist in keeping our neighborhoods safer, along with providing positive effects on how we execute our service,” said Centanni.

The cameras will cost the city about $40,000 a year for five years. Watervliet Mayor Charles Patricelli said the cost and manpower needed for the camera rollout was one reason the city did not adopt the cameras sooner.

“The use of it and the benefit of it outweighs the cost, especially if you can work on affording it. It’s never been a thing of, like, we didn’t want it because it would be something that would detrimental to the police department or the men or something like that… it was basically to protect them and the residents,” said Patricelli.

The city has also hired a civilian employee dedicated to coordinating discovery as required by the district attorney’s office and to manage bodycam video evidence. The hire allows a full-time sergeant initially tasked with managing video to return to the street.

The cameras were recommended by Watervliet’s state-mandated Police Policy Review Committee in March 2021 as a way to improve transparency.

Chief Centanni says the body cameras also help improve accountability.

“We are going to make mistakes; we do make mistakes. And when we do we acknowledge them, we learn from them, we move forward. And that’s the number one thing that I’ve always found with building trust with the community: being honest with them. They recognize that you’re going to make mistakes, but this goes a long way with demonstrating that we want to further build the trust that we have,” said Centanni.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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