Officers’ response to chase renews debate on body cameras

  • This aerial image made from a helicopter video provided by WHDH shows several officers pummeling Richard Simone, who had exited his vehicle and kneeled on the ground after a high-speed police pursuit, in Nashua, N.H., Wednesday, May 11, 2016. The chase went through several towns before ending in Nashua. (Courtesy WHDH via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT; BOSTON OUT

Monitor staff
Published: 5/13/2016 12:02:01 AM

Video footage from a news helicopter capturing police appearing to pummel a suspect in Nashua on Wednesday night have renewed discussions about body cameras and whether New Hampshire officers  should be required to wear them. 

“We have seen across the country when the police have body cameras, they were able to have a much better idea of what happened,” said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Portsmouth Democrat who said the state should require police to wear body cameras. “It shouldn’t be driven by this incident. It’s clearly something the Legislature should be contemplating. We haven’t moved far enough.”

New Hampshire officials aren’t saying whether any of the officers were wearing body cameras when they rushed and apprehended Richard Simone of Worcester, Mass., who led law enforcement from two states on a police chase from Massachusetts to New Hampshire on Wednesday.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said his office is investigating the officers’ actions and will determine if any body camera footage exists. New Hampshire State Police Col. Robert Quinn said a New Hampshire state trooper involved has been relieved of duty without pay. “The Division of State Police does not condone the unjustified use of force and it will not be tolerated,” he said in a prepared statement.

The name of the officer has not been released.

New Hampshire state troopers don’t currently wear body cameras on the job, but some of their cruisers have dashboard cameras. A number of local police departments, including the Weare police, have begun using body cameras recently.

Advocates say body cameras help keep the police and the public accountable and deter misconduct. But skeptics say the technology can be expensive and warn that cameras don’t tell the full story.

Legislation working its way through the State House would set state guidelines that regulate the use of police body cameras, limiting what they can record, how the footage is stored and when the video can be released to the public.

An original bill would have required all state police officers to wear body cameras while interacting with the public, but that mandate was scrapped largely because of the cost.

New Hampshire has more than 400 uniformed state police troopers. Outfitting each one with a camera would cost an estimated $472,400 in the first year, and roughly $250,000 in each of the following years, according to past projections.

The state police had planned to run a pilot program last year with three body cameras the agency got on loan from Taser International. But the testing never happened, due in part to legal concerns over privacy and how the troopers would record and store the video footage.

“Time ran out, basically, before we could get them out in the field,” state police Executive Major David Parenteau told the Monitor in August. The state police returned the equipment last April.

About one-third of the roughly 400 state police cruisers are already equipped with dashboard cameras, which capture video footage and audio recordings from the front of the vehicle. The Department of Safety is in the process of upgrading that technology, and installing it in more cruisers, said State Police Maj. Russell Conte. It’s not clear how much that will cost the state; Conte couldn’t provide an exact budget. “It’s a sizable sum of money,” he said.

Cruiser cameras work better for state police than body cameras, he said, because the bulk of their work is motor vehicle stops along state roads. The cruiser cameras offer a wider field of vision and are more “user friendly” for troopers. “It’s worked for us,” Conte said. “The body cameras, and the maintenance and cost for storage are pretty astronomical.”

It’s not clear whether a dashboard camera would have captured the incident in Nashua becuase the news footage focuses on the suspect’s truck and doesn’t show any surrounding vehicles.

In response to a question about whether state police should wear body cameras, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan said Thursday it’s important to get more information about the Nashua incident and the technology in general.

“It’s really important we continue to learn about the effectiveness of body cameras,” she said. “But I certainly think that there’s a strong possibility they should wear them.”

The state is poised to soon put new guidelines in place that govern body camera use. The House and Senate passed competing proposals this year that regulate the technology, and over the coming weeks, the chambers will try to finalize one bill that they can send Hassan for signature.

Broadly, the legislation seeks to limit camera use in sensitive areas and situations, like in schools or restrooms and during intimate searches or interviews with crime victims. The proposals would require the cameras continue recording throughout the length of any stop or event, and the footage be stored for specific amounts of time. The bills allow only certain footage to be released under the state’s right-to-know law, including video that captures the discharge of a firearm.

Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat who sponsored the body camera legislation, said the technology has proven effective at both lowering crime and complaints against the police. The proposed state guidelines are a solid step, he said, and purchasing the cameras may come later on.

“Spending money on equipping state police with body cameras is not an expense, but it’s an investment in public safety that in the long run is going to create safer communities,” he said.

Outside of New Hampshire, lawmakers and officials across the country have begun equipping law enforcement with body-worn cameras. President Obama launched an initiative last year that meant to help pay for 50,000 more police officers to wear body cameras, following widespread outcry over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Mo.

The Weare Police Department has been using body cameras since August 2014. While at first, downloading and storing the video footage was time consuming, the department worked out a fix within a few weeks, said Chief Sean Kelly.

The cameras have strengthened the community’s trust in the police, Kelly said. And they have helped the department improve its police reports, because officers can look through the video footage to jog their memory.

“Our experience has been very positive,” he said.

Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said police body cameras can provide another perspective of what happened, but said the investigation should conclude before the Legislature decides if and how to proceed. The news footage only gives viewers an angle from above, Carson said, leaving out the person-to-person interaction.

“We don’t know what happened and that’s why the investigation is going to be extremely important,” she said. “But of course having those cameras would enhance that.”

Concord Sen. Dan Feltes said the body camera technology is good for law enforcement, and for the public.

“It makes good sense to appropriate money for body cameras for law enforcement, including state police,” he said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report. Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy