Council approves police test of body cams

  • The Keene City Council met virtually to discuss a trial test of police body cameras. Courtesy

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 9/4/2020 6:03:45 PM
Modified: 9/4/2020 6:03:32 PM

The Keene City Council has voted unanimously to move forward with a testing-and-evaluation plan to determine whether to equip police officers with body and in-vehicle cameras.

The city will outfit four cruisers and six officers as part of the trial period that will likely start after the November election, according to City Manager Elizabeth Dragon. A report from this evaluation period will be presented to the council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee — likely sometime in February, Dragon said.

At Thursday’s meeting of the full city council, several councilors said implementing body cameras would be a worthy but expensive undertaking. If the council decides to permanently require officers to use the equipment, it would cost about $380,195 over five years, Dragon said.

But as Councilor Thomas Powers noted, hiring a paralegal to handle requests for the video footage would be an added cost.

“Somebody is going to have to be responsible for reviewing all of these and doing a dissemination under [the] Right to Know Law, under discovery, under court cases, et cetera,” said Powers, a former Keene police chief who chairs the council’s finance committee. “So in [the police department’s] proposal that was presented to us, there’s a plan for another paralegal in the city system that would work at the police department on this along with other discovery issues.”

At last week’s finance committee meeting, Police Chief Steven Russo told councilors that the first-year contract for a paralegal would cost around $87,500 and that personnel costs for training on the cameras would add another $14,000. Tacking these costs onto the vendor contract for the cameras equates to about $291,000 in year one and $135,000 annually thereafter, he said.

Committee members unanimously recommended last week that the full council move ahead with the testing period.

During this period, which the vendor does not charge for, the city will spend $4,700 to cover overtime costs for officers being trained to use the test cameras. Dragon added that the city is looking into whether there is federal funding available for body cameras.

The decision to move forward with a body-cameras plan is quite timely, said Councilor Terry Clark, who noted that Gov. Chris Sununu’s commission on police reform recently issued a set of recommendations that includes the use of body and vehicle cameras. The commission was established amid calls for criminal justice improvements following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in the custody of Minneapolis police in May.

Floyd died after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for an extended period of time in the presence of three other officers.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and the other three officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Kiernan Lane and Tou Thao — have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All have been fired.

Floyd’s death sparked global protests, including in Keene. A petition calling for the use of body cameras by Keene police, which drew hundreds of signatures, was submitted to the council earlier this summer.

Body cameras are “something we need to look at very seriously,” Clark said Thursday.

While the cameras are frequently considered a means of holding police officers accountable, multiple councilors noted that the equipment will protect the officers as well.

Councilors Randy Filiault and Mitch Greenwald both urged their fellow councilors to go on a ride-along with a Keene police officer at some time to see the sort of bad behavior they are often faced with. Filiault said the cameras would also demonstrate the patience and professionalism of the city’s officers and that he feels they would come to appreciate having them.

“I actually think a lot of [police officers] are really going to favor it,” he said. “I’ve seen some of the things that they’ve seen, and it’s pretty incredible. And I think it’s only going to favor the department and the citizens of the city of Keene.”

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson.These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.



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