New York State Police are rolling out body-worn cameras to roughly 3,000 troopers statewide, starting with those in the Albany area. The statewide program, being instituted under legislation signed into law last June, will cost about $7.5 million a year.
Troop G, headquartered in Latham, is aiming to outfit hundreds of troopers including road troopers, special operations and its canine mobile field unit with the Axon cameras. WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with troop commander Major Christopher West about the effort.
West: As we get people outfitted with the system, it's not any type of particular order, necessarily, but we want to, being the pilot troop, want to make sure that we get everyone outfitted and have everyone properly trained and familiar with the system. And hopefully, we'll be able to do that all by this month.
Levulis: And when, where and in what circumstances will troopers be required to record video on those body-worn cameras?
West: It's during their normal patrol. And, you know, as I had mentioned before, you know, one of the things here, we think this is the first step in trying to bridge the gap with the communities and law enforcement. And, you know, it's going to be one of those things where having the camera, I think, is going to hopefully highlight and show some of the great work that our men and women do on a day to day basis in the communities that they serve.
Levulis: And are there situations when troopers are able to turn off the cameras in the course of their duties for particular reasons?
West: They will be able to turn the camera off during certain times of you know, personal necessity or some other situations where they're not dealing with the public. But when they're having interaction with the general public and doing their day to day duties and performing their functions, they will have the camera on, it will be recording.
Levulis: And how will the video gathered from those cameras be handled? Does it require additional duties for the State Police?
West: It does have some additional duties, we have personnel that also are being trained right now in the storage and retention of that. I won't get into the actual specifics of how long and all the things that goes with that. But there are additional things that we do in order to make sure that all the video is preserved and able to be recalled when necessary.
Levulis: And as you mentioned earlier, after Troop G, the plan is to roll out more body-worn cameras to first troopers in New York City and then eventually have 3,000 cameras statewide. Will Troop G be tracking success within its ranks to sort of set best practices for the entire State Police?
West: Well, I think that by Troop G going first, certainly, you'll be able to have a little bit of a measuring stick, if you will. And hopefully we are able to, you know, see if we have some, you know, bumps in the road, it's a new program for us. And like I said, you know, if we have some things that we need to work on and see that we need to somehow change things or if we're not capturing all that we thought we would or whatever else may be the case, I think hopefully we'll be able to find little quirks or different things that we need to work on during our rollout for the rest of the troops and be able to fix those things.
Levulis: Have you tested out the cameras yourself?
West: I haven't tested the camera on myself. But I have gone through an orientation program. And I've, you know looked at it myself and, you know, gone through a program. And just to try to get familiar with it as well, and see how much you know, I can learn from it also.
Levulis: Throughout your years in law enforcement, have you ever worn a body camera?
West: No. This is now, I’m over 30 years in law enforcement, I've never worn a body camera. It's certainly very interesting. And I think that as an agency, I'm happy to be the troop commander and be in charge of a group of people who are out here and excited to be a part of this program. I think it's going to be a win-win for both us and the communities that we serve.
Levulis: Are there any members of Troop G who have worn them when they've been with different agencies or anything like that, that sort of real world experience that some of your troopers have been able to kind of rely upon?
West: I don't think any of our people have worn them but I think certainly we have patrols with other agencies and other members of other departments where they have been a part of a program where they have worn them. I know, locally here we've had some departments that have had body-worn cameras and our members have teamed up with them on various assignments.
Levulis: I see, certainly the ride-alongs with the City of Albany Police, I'm sure it's probably one of those cases.
West: Yes, sir. That's correct.
Levulis: Now major, statewide communities have been passing police reform plans to meet a state mandate. Is the State Police at all looking at any of these plans to potentially Institute some of those local reforms within the State Police?
West: I think a lot of things are being looked at right now. And our division headquarters, you know, is certainly working with a lot of different departments and agencies and making sure that we're doing the best thing possible to roll out the best plan for everyone.