FAIRFIELD — The Board of Finance unanimously agreed to spend $742,724 for body cameras and in-car cameras for the town’s police officers.
The money for the 80 body cameras, in-car cameras and servers for storage will be reimbursed 100 percent by money from a state Office of Policy and Management program, less $7,500 for training. The $7,500 will be refunded by the vendor.
Many of the questions from the Board of Financed focused not on the financial aspects, but policy on the use of the cameras.
“This is a voluntary program,” asked finance board member John Mitola. “Is there legislation pending that eventually this is going to be mandatory.”
Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy said while it is not a mandate at this point, it might well become one. The State Police are mandated to use the cameras, he said. “It would be very easy for them to say this is now a mandate,” Lyddy said, noting the advantage to buying the cameras now is the 100 percent state reimbursement.
Finance member James Walsh asked if any of the video collected by the officers is subject to Freedom of Information Act requirements.
“It all is,” Lyddy said. He said there is a policy that has been in place during the two-year pilot program that proscribes when cameras can be turned off. Should an officer decide to turn off their body camera, they must announce while the video is still recording the reasons. With the in-car cameras, Lyddy said, there are a number of triggers that automatically turn the car camera on, such as the activation of overhead lights or the siren.
“So if an officer approaches your car and says, ‘Do you know why I pulled you over,’ its probably going to be on,” Walsh said. “I think there’s going to have a notification out to our citizens that they may be recorded.”
“This will be a physical unit on their body, with a red light indicator,” Lyddy said. He said administrators would have the ability to redact parts of the videos — like the faces of juveniles.”
Walsh wanted to know if allowing an officer to turn off the cameras could open the town to liability.
“I absolutely see a risk in that area, but I also see those possibilities where it is appropriate, like a sexual assault investigation,” Lyddy said. “The officer, before he turns it off, has to explain on camera why he’s opting to turn it off. Those instances should be and will be few and far between, where it’s turned off.”
Lyddy said they expect to have to replace the cameras every three years. The units currently cost $799 each. He said the in-car cameras are expected to have a life span of about 10 years. The server is expected to last at least seven years.