A northern New York district attorney plans to buy body cameras for law enforcement agencies in his county before he leaves office at the end of the month. In the wake of recent high-profile grand jury decisions involving violent incidents with police, body cameras have been suggested as a possible solution.
Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne begins a new job as family court judge next year. Before he leaves his current position he plans to use asset-seizure funds to pay for body cameras for police officers across the county. “Saranac Lake and Malone already have them. In Tupper Lake and Tribal Police already have some. I just don’t know if they have enough for every officer. So my intent is to further outfit whatever local departments don’t have them.”
Champagne says the cameras are a safety tool that are as important in rural settings as they are in urban areas. “Unfortunately our rural police officers see the exact same crimes that happen in the cities. They respond to robberies. They respond to domestics that could turn into homicides. They pull up to a vehicle and someone starts giving them a hard time. It helps the officers. The ones that we’ve had luck with are not on for the entire shift. So it’s not intrusive and I think it’s worth a try. I think especially in my county we’ve had departments that have had a lot of success with them. So why not try to help to help the departments that don’t have funding or don’t have money try to go ahead and get them?”
Village of Tupper Lake Police Chief Eric Proulx had been testing various cameras, assessing his budget and researching the possibility of obtaining body cams for each of his officers. “For my small department it was a great windfall for them to come forward because I had actually been looking into some type of program for my department long before his office called me to tell me they were providing funding. And it also happened before Ferguson or New York City. With a budget as small as mine I was going to use resources that I had in my equipment budget to purchase a few of them. And I was going to forego other equipment that I wanted to replace. But now that he’s going to come forward with funding hopefully I’ll be able to use that funding to buy what I need.”
Proulx says his department may be small but still sees the same crimes as any larger department. He wants the cameras for public and officer safety. “My main reason at looking at body cameras was to help see what my officers are doing on the street and also to help with any personnel complaints that I receive. And obviously with what’s going on lately there’s a lot of scrutiny on law enforcement. When you’re dealing with folks that are taking cell phone videos, a lot of times those videos are edited and it might not show the whole incident. With police body cameras the whole incident will be recorded. I not getting the cameras to find my officers doing wrong. I’m hoping to look at this video and see they’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing.”
SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Sociology Dr. Stephen Light is the author of the textbook Understanding Criminal Justice. He isn’t surprised that body cameras are becoming a standard piece of equipment for police departments. “If technology exists it will be used. So it doesn’t surprise me to see officers wearing them. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily good or bad about a camera as long as there are safeguards for privacy and confidentiality and to protect both the officers and suspects and the general public. That’s the question. What kind of protections are there for everyone and how will the data be used?”
District Attorney Champagne said he plans to distribute money to police departments by the end of the year for acquisition of the body cameras.