Providence police roll out body camera policy

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – From learning when police must activate their body-worn cameras to how long recordings will be stored following encounters, the Providence City Council Finance Committee got a crash course Monday on the police department’s plan to require all patrolman to wear the devices.

The council is currently considering a five-year, $1.37-million no-bid contract for TASER International to provide the department with 250 body cameras and unlimited data storage for the length of the agreement. The cameras will be partially funded through a $375,000 federal grant.

The Finance Committee will continue discussing the proposed contract at its next meeting, according Chairman John Igliozzi.

During Monday’s meeting, Capt. Dean Isabella gave the committee a PowerPoint presentation on the program, explaining how the department tested cameras from two companies – TASER and VIEVU – last year and why they determined TASER offered a superior product.

Asked why the body camera project didn’t go out to bid, Isabella said the two companies were the only ones in the country with the ability to provide all of the resources a department of Providence’s size needs. He said all 10 of the officers who tested both cameras preferred the ones offered by TASER.

As for when the cameras must be activated, Isabella explained that all encounters where there is at least reasonable suspicion that a person has been involved in criminal activity requires use of the camera. All vehicle pursuits and stops, attempts to take someone into custody, building searches and public interactions that become adversarial must also be recorded.

The camera policy notes that activation of the camera must occur “as soon as practicable.”

Isabella explained that some of the scenarios where cameras won’t be activated include encounters that aren’t directly related to official police activities, when potential witnesses request anonymity, when dealing with victims of sex crimes or child abuse and when the identities of undercover officers would be comprised.

Isabella said all uniformed patrolman will be required to wear the cameras, but detectives and other high-ranking members of the department will not be asked to wear them. He said only the chief of police or his designee would have the authority to delete any records.

Asked about how recording will be stored, Isabella said TASER will provide cloud services that allow every encounter to be documented and tagged. He said all recordings will be stored for at least 90 days, although any videos related to an ongoing investigation or court proceeding can be retained longer. He said recordings will be accessible through the state’s Access to Public Records Act.

After Isabella’s presentation, a representative from TASER gave the committee a demonstration on how the Axon Body 2 cameras work. He explained that once the cameras are activated, they record both video and sound. Prior to being activated, they are considered buffering, which means they record the most recent 30 seconds of just video.

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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