A new push is being made to get police departments in Massachusetts equipped with body and cruiser cameras. A law enforcement equipment company is offering free trials of its camera system. A state legislator wants the Baker administration to come up with guidelines for using the technology.
State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield said he’s asked the state’s public safety secretary to prepare a report on “best practices” for using camera technology that Massachusetts police departments have been slow to adopt.
"Boston is on a temporary trial basis, hopefully Springfield can be a leader," said Gonzalez.
In a survey taken a decade ago, 61 percent of police departments nationwide had cameras in cruisers, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. But in Massachusetts the biggest police departments in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield still do not. The Massachusetts State Police do not have cruiser cameras or body cameras.
On Tuesday, Gonzalez arranged for Axon to demonstrate its camera system for elected officials and Springfield police department brass at the city’s police headquarters.
" There is an outcry from the community and I think showcasing what the camera technology is and what it can do is beneficial for everybody," explained Gonzalez.
A company representative demonstrated how front and rear-facing high-definition cameras in a police-model SUV are synchronized with wireless body cameras. The cameras begin recording automatically when the cruiser’s flashing lights are turned on, or when an officer draws a weapon. The video is uploaded in real time to a cloud-based storage system.
Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri said he wants the department equipped with cameras, but there are legal, financial, and contractual obstacles to overcome.
" The police department is currently in negotiations with the supervisor's union and the patrolman's union in regards to dashboard cameras and body cameras, so I can't comment on implementation, but I think it is critical to view as many products as possible as we move forward," said Barbieri.
Barbieri said police departments in Massachusetts need legal guidance when it comes to recording on private property and the public’s right to view police camera videos.
" There has to be some regulations on exactly what the requirements are on police departments for managing and distributing video," said Barbieri.
The commissioner has estimated the storage costs alone for a camera system could be high as $300,000 a year.
City Council President Orlando Ramos, who attended Tuesday’s demonstration by Axon, said he believes cameras will save the city money if it leads to fewer complaints of police misconduct.
" What with legal fees for the time we spend litigating allegations of police misconduct, a lot of them false allegations, that would be a cost savings in the long run," said Ramos.
Axon offers police departments a one-year free trial of its cameras, software, storage and training.
The company Tuesday also demonstrated its cruiser and body camera system for officials in Chicopee.