State police to test using body cameras

 

WILMINGTON — The state will begin a pilot program with approximately 12 body cameras to be put in use by the Delaware State Police, authorities announced Wednesday. If all goes well with the test, both state police and local agencies may begin using body cameras on a permanent basis in less than a year.

Members of the executive branch, law enforcement officers and the head of a major civil rights group hailed the announcement in a news release.

The plan came about after discussions between top state officials and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last year, talks that took place in the midst of a period of racial unrest nationwide.

Nationally, several black men were killed by police between July 2014 and April, leading to protests and allegations of police brutality. In the aftermath, some civil rights groups and government officials across the country called for body cameras, arguing they could help better protect both police and the public.

A release from the governor’s office said participants in last year’s discussions “agreed use of these cameras would be an inevitable and a positive step to support both law enforcement activities and the rights of Delaware citizens.”

Delaware Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security Lewis Schiliro said in an interview he views the cameras as a tool that can benefit everyone.

Body cameras can “protect the public from abusive force,” prove unfounded allegations against officers to be false and help modify behavior because of the potential for criminal acts to be caught on camera, Mr. Schiliro said.

The state is in the process of procuring the 12 body cameras, and as such, the cost is not yet known, he said. State police will put the cameras to use, although Mr. Schiliro said officials hope to expand the pilot to include other departments.

Exactly which troopers will wear the cameras is up to the state police superintendent, although Mr. Schiliro predicted the devices will stay with the same officers during the test period.

Delaware has 42 police agencies, and the goal is to develop a consistent policy for all of them, he said. However, there are obstacles that must be cleared first.

Storing the recordings remains an issue, as officials must ensure the video is stored in a secure fashion. Mr. Schiliro said he thinks the state will opt for a cloud-based storage system, where all recordings from state and local police can be kept.

Privacy concerns will have to be hashed out. Mr. Schiliro cited an example of a police officer with a camera entering a home for a domestic disturbance, a situation where the homeowner could request his children not be filmed.

Cost, as always, is also significant.

“One of the aspects of this pilot is really to start to determine what the budget implications are going to be,” Mr. Schiliro said.

He hopes the program is launched within a month. It will last 30 to 45 days, and authorities expect to glean valuable information from that test period.

A request to purchase more cameras for police to use beyond an interim basis could be included in Gov. Jack Markell’s January recommended budget, Mr. Schiliro noted.

According to the governor’s office, the Ocean View, Smyrna and New Castle County police department already have started using body cameras.

In a statement, Richard Smith, president of the state NAACP, called the cameras “a necessary addition to our police departments for the protection of the police departments and the community.”

Delaware has released a request for information to allow camera manufacturers to provide details on how they would meet the state’s needs during the initial test phase.

Some municipalities that have adopted the use of body cameras have used them primarily as a tool to collect evidence, but Mr. Schiliro seemed uncertain that is the direction he thinks the state should head in.

Such a decision would create new issues, especially at a time when officials are working to determine what limits should be developed for cameras.

There is still work to do and information to gather, but officials are excited about the potential offered by body cameras.

“There are a lot of different things that need to be balanced as we come up on this,” Mr. Schiliro said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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