Providence police to begin testing body cameras

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In an effort to improve the relationship between police officers and private citizens, the Providence Police Department will soon test the use of body cameras on its officers.

On Thursday, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré and Police Chief Hugh Clements announced the launch of the Body Worn Camera Pilot Program.

As part of the program, 10 city officers will be outfitted with body cameras for 30 days. Then, police will test out cameras made by a second company for another 30 days.

President Barack Obama called for more police departments to begin using body cameras in the wake of the 2014 shooting death Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was unarmed when he was killed by a police officer. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury.

That incident and other killings of civilians at the hands of police have caused a strained relationship between the two sides, and many lawmakers have posited that body cameras could help to increase transparency and reestablish trust.

“The cameras will enable us to bring stronger cases in court with better evidence for convictions and of course, strengthening our efforts to protect the public in the process,” Elorza said Thursday.

“We need to stop the stereotyping and the negativity that police get,” added Providence Patrolman Jose Deschamps.

When an officer has an encounter he or she will touch the middle of the camera to begin recording, and at that point the camera has already started recording 30 seconds prior.

Anybody who encounters an officer on camera will be able to access the video. The city solicitor’s office will decide whether it’s made public.Providence police body camera

“Other states dump all their data and make them public up on their website,” said Paré. “That’s not consistent with our state law here and that’s not what we’ll be doing.”

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.

During an episode of Newsmakers last month, 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,” said Clements. “Both on the officer’s part and on the suspect’s and community member’s part.”

While many lawmakers are in favor of police using body cameras, others have raised privacy concerns, including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

The companies providing the cameras are TASER International and VIEVU.

The test phase will come at no cost to the city. To take the program to full scale, Elorza said it would cost about $1 million over the next three years, which includes a camera for each officer and storage for all the videos. The police department currently doesn’t have the money to pay for them, according to Elorza, so it’s applying for federal grants to cover the cost.

Elorza said city officers are set to begin wearing the cameras by the end of April.


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