Providence mulling body cameras for police officers

From left to right, Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and former Asst. Fire Chief Scott Mello. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements said Thursday the city is “very actively” considering outfitting the force with body cameras, a tool President Obama has embraced as part of an attempt to improve police and community relations around the country.

Clements said the department will soon receive about 20 body cameras from two different companies – TASER International and VIEVU – to begin a trial phase. He said he’s still working on drafting a formal policy on how the cameras will be used in the city.

“Each company is going to give us 10 apiece and we should roll that out very shortly,” Clements said during a City Council Finance Committee hearing. “Then from there we’ll be coming to the council and administration for funding if we want to do it.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Dept. of Justice announced it would invest $20 million in a pilot program designed to provide body cameras and training to police departments throughout the country. Obama has said he wants to spend $75 million to buy more than 50,000 body cameras for local law enforcement over the next three years.

The Justice Department said it expects to provide about 50 grants to local law enforcement agencies, covering about half the cost associated with buying the body cameras. Clements said Providence is seeking federal support for its initiative.

Applicants are required to craft an implementation plan and set a “robust training policy” in order to be eligible for the grants, according to the Justice Department.

Mayor Jorge Elorza released a statement Friday, saying:

Instituting a body camera program in the Providence Police Department has been a priority that we have been working to develop since I took office. Body cameras are a powerful tool for investigators and all who value justice.

My administration is in the final stages of developing a program to test the technology on a group of officers and we will begin field testing the program in the very near future.

The president called for police departments to begin using body cameras following the shooting death 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last year. Brown was unarmed when he was killed by a police officer. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury.

Separately, Clements told the Finance Committee Thursday was the final phase of agility test portion of the city’s new police academy.

Clements said 2,157 applied for the academy, but an “inordinate” number of people failed to make it to the physical fitness portion of the tryout. He said slightly more than 400 will likely pass the agility test before the department begins weeding the class down to about 32 officers.

For the first time in recent memory, Clements said, Providence lowered the eligibility age to become a cop to 18. Clements said the goal was to increase the number of inner-city candidates applying to join the force.

Several committee members, including Chairman John Igliozzi, said they don’t believe the city should have lowered the age to join the force. Clements said about one-third of departments across the state allow 18-year-olds to apply, while the rest require a candidate to be 21. The State Police allows 18-year-old candidates, but rarely selects people that young. Coincidentally, Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare joined the State Police at 19.

“I’m confident we will be very judicious in picking anyone under the age of 21 in the academy,” Clements said.

As it stands now, Clements said Providence has 448 active police officers, but around 200 are eligible to retire. He said he expects the new academy to begin in March or April.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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