Providence police set to test body cameras

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements said Thursday the city will begin outfitting a small group of officers with body cameras over the next six weeks.

Clements said the department’s initial pilot program will consist of 10 officers testing one set of body cameras for 30 days. The cops will then wear cameras provided by a second company for another 30 days.

“I think it’s important that we take the lead as the capital city’s police department in at least exploring the use of body cameras,” Clements said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

Clements said last year the companies providing the cameras are TASER International and VIEVU. The test phase will come at no cost to the city, but Clements said he believes it will ultimately cost about $1 million over three years to place cameras on every officer. He said the city plans to seek federal funding to support the program.

Clements said officers have largely been open to discussing body cameras, but he wants to make sure the city gets the policy right before moving forward.

“We find early evidence shows behavior changes in a positive way on both sides of the camera,” Clements said. “Both on the officer’s part and on the suspect’s and community member’s part.”

Sgt. Robert Boehm, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said his members worked closely with Clements and Capt. Dean Isabella to craft a policy that is “good with the department and officers.” He said the 10 members involved with the pilot phase all volunteered to wear the cameras.

“The officers that wear the cameras are going to have a stake if anything needs to be changed,” Boehm said. He said the union contract would not need to be altered in order to fully implement the camera system.

The exact policy that will be followed with the cameras remains largely unclear. A spokesperson for the city said the Elorza administration will make an announcement on the cameras in the coming weeks.

A draft version of the policy posted this week by Rhode Island’s Future, a local progressive political blog, states that cameras would be used for “all enforcement encounters where there is at least reasonable suspicion that a person has committed, is committing, or may be involved in criminal activity.”

Last 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 three years.

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.

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Tim White ( ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

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

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