Donation made to South Boston Police Department for Body-Worn Cameras
In appreciation for its service to the community, Wayne S. Stevens Company made a donation to the South Boston Police Department.
The money will go towards the purchase of body worn cameras for South Boston police officers.
Chief Jim Binner thanked Wayne S. Stevens company as well as other businesses, civic organizations, and private citizens who have supported the department in improving its video documentation capabilities.
Police Departments Increasingly Using Body-Worn Cameras
As the New Hampshire Senate prepares to consider House Bill 617, “An act requiring state police to wear a camera when interacting with the public,” several North Country agencies are already using the equipment and getting praise from an occasional critic — the American Civil Liberties Union — for doing so.
Although the body-worn camera is not a brand new technology, its use became the subject of much national discussion following a series of incidents that called into question the veracity and conduct of police officers and their relationship with the people they’re sworn to protect and serve.
Byron Charles, the chief of the Haverhill Police Department, said his agency began exploring body cameras years ago. While the cameras can help provide accountability for both officers and the public, Charles said another reason was simply to keep his officers out on their beats.
With eight full-time and three part-time officers, the Haverhill Police Department is small with a lot of ground to cover and Charles recalled being struck by how some of his officers were spending lots of time doing paperwork.
“And I thought, ‘How can I put officers back on the street where they should be?’” said Charles, and he hit upon body cameras.
The Haverhill Police Department became one of the first in the Granite State to take part in a body-worn camera pilot program, and later, using drug forfeiture funds to purchase the cameras.
The cameras have helped Haverhill’s officers in writing their reports and the digital recordings have been shown in court, which has had the effect of reducing the amount of time an officer has to appear during the criminal proceedings.
The fact that video footage is available also increases the likelihood that a person charged with an offense will plead guilty and thus taxpayers will avoid the cost of a trial altogether.
Although he declined to talk about the case of Hagen Esty-Lennon, it’s obvious that Charles and the Haverhill Board of Selectmen trust in the ability of body cameras to act as a powerful corroborating witness.
On July 7, 2015, two Haverhill police officers encountered 41-year old Canterbury resident Esty-Lennon, carrying a knife, on Route 302 in Bath. Their handguns drawn, the officers repeatedly ordered Esty-Lennon to drop the knife, but he failed to comply, and as video from the officers’ body cameras later showed, he then charged them and ran into a fatal hail of bullets.
Following a month-long investigation, the Attorney General’s Office said the officers’ actions were justified.
Asked how strongly the Haverhill Police Department believes in body cameras, Charles cited the fact that the department recently signed a multi-year.
Charles encouraged other departments to explore using body cameras but cautioned that the larger departments should make provisions for handling the volume of data their officers will be continually generating.
In Lincoln, which is about 30 miles east of Haverhill on the Kancamagus Highway, Police Chief Theodore Smith said data storage will be done onsite.
A member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Community Policing Committee, Smith said body cameras have been “discussed for years now” and will go into service in Lincoln shortly.
As in Haverhill, Smith said body cameras are being used because it makes sense, not because of any precipitating event.
“We have very few complaints about the police department here, however, (body cameras) are a way of looking at the interaction” between an officer and the public, said Smith. He added that in some jurisdictions that “look” at the body-camera video has not only upheld an officer’s account but led to charges against those who falsely accused him or her of misconduct.
Smith expects more police departments to use body cameras, adding that using them “is simply moving with the current stream.”
Devon Chaffee, the executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, said body cameras aren’t a “silver bullet.”
“They don’t replace the need for a police department to build strong relationships with their community,” she said, “but they can foster accountability and community trust but only if you have proper regulations in place that ensure the integrity of the footage collected and also people’s privacy.”
Chaffee thinks that HB617, which was passed in January by the House of Representatives, will help create uniform guidance on how body cameras are used while also shielding police from prosecution under the state’s current Right-to-Know and wiretapping laws.
The bill spells out when and how the cameras are to be activated; who has access to the footage and the steps that should be taken to prevent tampering; and where individuals should have the reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in a private residence or during the interview of a crime victim.
Chaffee said studies have shown that the use of body cameras has reduced the instances of the use of force by police, and also of having a positive effect on community members interacting with officers.
HB617 reflects New Hampshire’s attempt to stay ahead of technology while protecting privacy rights and its passage, said Chaffee, would “put New Hampshire at the top of adopting such guidelines at the state level.”
Deputy Chief Dan Buteau of the Berlin Police Department called the use of body cameras “an important and evolving issue in law enforcement,” adding that their use “has improved transparency.”
But he nonetheless cautioned that in the Berlin Police Department’s experience, “…we have found that camera footage does not tell the whole story. Its scope is very limited as far as painting a picture of what the officer observed, with all of his senses, at a particular incident.”
“While our initial take is positive, time will tell whether that continues to be the case,” said Buteau.
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