Delaware lawyers evaluate impact of police body cameras on justice system

DOVER — Prosecutors and defense lawyers are evaluating how the use of police body cameras will impact the state’s criminal justice system.

Delaware State Police are now in a pilot program to test the technology and seven police departments now wear cameras — Smyrna, Ocean View, Middletown, New Castle County, Bethany Beach, Delaware State University and the University of Delaware.

An eight-page policy manual on body-worn cameras was distributed to law enforcement agencies statewide after months of collaborative meetings between the Delaware Police Chiefs Council, Attorney Generals Office and Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“Body worn cameras are an important tool for law enforcement in protecting our officers, gathering evidence for prosecution, and bolstering public confidence in the criminal justice system,” Attorney General Matt Denn said in a statement.

“I applaud the efforts of our law enforcement agencies to increase the number of officers who are using these cameras, and I hope those efforts will expand.”

Delaware Public Defender Brendan O’Neill believes cameras will aid a quest for justice if the policy guidelines being

ONeill by .

Brendan O’Neill

followed.

“If used properly and monitored appropriately, body cameras can be a service to all,” he said.

“If they are used as the policy calls for they should generate evidence that will help a judge and jury determine what happened in an interaction.”

Added Mr. O’Neill, “Time will tell if the policy is enforced.”

Mr. O’Neill said the case results involving body cameras have been mixed.

“In some cases it helped the police and in other cases it helped the defense, which is to be expected,” he said.

The Delaware Department of Justice said access to body camera video has affected legal proceedings.

“Having footage from police body cameras has been helpful in preparing for indictment and trial in some cases that are currently pending,” Mr. Kanefsky said.

“Several law enforcement agencies very recently deployed body worn cameras, so the footage received the DOJ is relevant to pending cases. Because they are pending cases, we would prefer not to comment on them individually by name.”

More resources needed

So far, according to DSP spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz, the cameras have elicited “Nothing remarkable regarding impact. Public reaction was nearly equally divided between ‘Good’ and ‘No Reaction’

“Over the past two months, as cases move forward, we have been tasked with providing the Attorney General’s Office with access to the video data for prosecution.”

While Mr. O’Neill said he’s heard of no case in which police turned off a body camera during an interaction, “that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”

As the number of body cameras increases throughout the state, Mr. O’Neill said so will the personnel needed to evaluate their footage.

“We’re going to need more manpower to utilize the technology associated with the cameras,” he said. “Our obligation is to look at everything and we can’t shirk that responsibility.”

The DOJ “has not been provided with new resources to handle this significant new workload,” Mr. Kanefsky said.

“The existence of the cameras will also present a significant cost burden for our department, because all of the footage from those cameras will need to be reviewed by prosecutors for purposes of complying with our various and sometimes competing legal obligations, including timely production of discovery information to defendants and protection of victims.”

Moving forward, the DOJ believes increased body camera use by police will have a positive impact on the state.

“We will need to address the additional workload and expense and these cameras will present for law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, and as we gain more experience with the use of these cameras, we will also want to want to constantly review the policies for their use as we do with other important policies,” Mr. Kanefsky said.

According to the DOJ, “The positive way that they will affect our work is that they will provide us with more information, and sometimes more accurate information, about incidents that are the subject of criminal investigations and prosecutions.

“They will also help to memorialize information for which we would otherwise need to rely on witnesses’ memories. The duty of a prosecutor is always to pursue the truth, so the addition of more accurate information from body cameras will be an asset to us.”

Testing the cameras

The DSP completed 120 days of using body cameras on June 30, utilizing two vendors and 15 troopers divided evenly in Kent, New Castle, and Sussex counties.

“Troopers were ultimately trained by the two vendors on how to operate the cameras (daily use, testing, tagging, and uploading data),” Sgt. Bratz said.

There was no cost for the pilot program as hardware vendors Axon and Coban covered the expenses for separate 60-day trials, Sgt. Bratz said.

The state’s only investment was the “regular salaries paid to our Information Technology technicians and other personnel,” he said.

“The Division’s current draft body worn camera policy was also reviewed and provided to those receiving this training.”

The DOJ is seeking an approximation on amount of footage produced and the cost to the State of Delaware’s budget. Any adjustments to the correct use of the devices required will be reflected in updates to the statewide policy manual as warranted, the DOJ said.

At no cost

There was no cost for the pilot program as hardware vendors Axon and Coban covered the expenses for separate 60-day trials, Sgt. Bratz said.

The state’s only investment was the “regular salaries paid to our Information Technology technicians and other personnel,” he said.

McQueen by .

Cpl. Nathaniel McQueen

Troopers for the program “were selected based upon their assigned Troop location and level of interest,” Sgt. Bratz said.

The State Police keep control and store recorded data produced during the program, Sgt. Bratz said. Maj. Robert Hudson oversees the program and support for day-to-day operations through the DSP’s Information Technology Section and the Planning & Research Section.

Already utilizing an extensive in-car camera program, the DSP delved into the costs and benefits of body worn cameras by their troopers.

“One major point of this test/evaluation was to test the two storage solution, cloud to determine if State Bandwidth could support vs on site servers,” Superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen said in a statement. “Funding was not approved for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We found that a program of this nature not only requires hardware but also man hours and additional positions to support and ensure the program runs as expected.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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