ACLU asks Providence to reject police body cameras — until stronger policy

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While Rhode Island’s capital city has been moving forward on adding body-mounted cameras to its police officers’ arsenal, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking the city council to halt spending the money on them until the city adopts stronger policies that ensure transparency and accountability for their use.

While the ACLU of RI’s executive director, Steven Brown, said in a statement police body cameras can “provide a helpful layer of transparency and accountability in police-community relations,” the current policy for the Providence Police Department “would allow the public to be kept in the dark if a troubling incident of police misuse of force were to be captured on these cameras.”

Just last week, the city struck a deal with Taser International to buy 250 body cameras, but the expenditure, at last check, still needed to be approved by the City Council. The city is receiving a $375,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, but will have to make up the difference; all told, the entire cost is estimated at $1 million over the course of three years.

Right now, body camera policy does not have the cameras recording automatically during an officer’s shift. An officer would have to turn the camera on when entering situations such as where someone is suspected of a crime, vehicle stops and pursuits, building searches, and others.

In the ACLU’s opinion, Brown said the policy “is not sufficiently precise in making sure that encounters will be captured on tape from beginning to end.”

The ACLU’s Hillary Davis said back in September other police departments require officers to turn on the camera as soon as they are dispatched to a call, rather than making a judgment call during the encounter whether to capture it or not.

Police chief Col. Hugh Clements said he’d consider making changes to the policy as time progressed. He also said when it comes to releasing video, requests would go through a standard Access to Public Records process, and will be handled on a case-by-case basis — but said the department would err on the side of transparency.