State police set for body camera pilot program

 

DOVER — Delaware State Police will begin a pilot program for body cameras later this month, about five months before the planned large-scale utilization.

Appearing before the Joint Finance Committee Monday, Superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen said the agency is set to launch the program as part of a plan to introduce police cameras starting in July.

McQueen by .

Cpl. Nathaniel McQueen

With budget hearings continuing this week, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security detailed its proposed budget for the next fiscal year to lawmakers. The budget recommended by Gov. Jack Markell includes $350,000 to purchase police body cameras, and, ahead of the full rollout, law enforcement officials plan a smaller-scale test. According to the Justice Department, 15 agencies, including New Castle County, Milford and the University of Delaware already use body cameras.

After narrowing down a field of 23 bids, police will start two 60-day pilots with separate companies on Feb. 22. None of the funding for those pilots comes from the $350,000 allocated by the governor, which will be used solely to buy cameras. Col. McQueen estimated that sum could buy 583 cameras, although additional funding still would need to be procured for related services.

“If we use just the $350,000, it would only pay for the cameras, would not pay for the back-end, wouldn’t support our system,” he said.

The full body camera program would cost about $1.6 million to launch and $1.2 million annually thereafter, Col. McQueen said.

While law enforcement officials hope to present a detailed request during budget markup in May after the pilots, that could prove difficult.

“When we start to put the budget together, we can’t have every agency coming back here at markup time going, ‘Oh, we need another million here and there,’” Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna, said. “Everything’s done ahead of time. Markup’s too late.”

The discussion on additional funding was brief, and Rep. Carson had the last word.

Troops 3, 6 and 7, located in Camden, Wilmington and Lewes, respectively, are the planned sites for the pilots, Col. McQueen said.

Officers in the pilot also will be provided different types of cameras, so officials can determine what models and body placement work best.

Col. McQueen said police have developed a policy that could be approved officially by the police chiefs as soon as today.

“We try to focus on really what we can deliver in terms of the public expectations as well as safety of our officers,” he said.

The policy includes aspects designed to protect others’ privacy while also preventing officers from being afraid to act due to being caught on camera.

The state has been moving toward body cameras for more than a year, with civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. pushing for them.

Gov. Markell announced the pilot program in September, saying in a statement “effective use of body cameras can both help police officers protect our citizens while strengthening trust between law enforcement and all of the communities they serve.”

Body camera-related funding for other agencies could be an issue in the coming months as well.

The governor recommended $150,000 to allow the Department of Justice to review camera footage, and last week, the state’s chief defender asked for funding to allow the Office of Defense Services to do so as well.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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