Sunshine Week: Despite request for state police cruiser cameras, budget looks dim

Monitor staff
Published: 3/14/2019 6:44:37 PM

For more than two years, New Hampshire State Police have considered joining a growing number of departments across the country to equip its officers and vehicles with cameras.

In November, the department finally asked the state for $1.5 million over two years to implement a cruiser camera program. It was described as a way to “promote safety and reduce risk to the Troopers and the public they serve,” according to budget documents. The request was for cruiser cameras only, not body cameras to be worn by troopers.

The department also requested three new positions to handle the program’s infrastructure.

The funding ultimately wasn’t included in Gov. Chris Sununu’s $13.1 billion two-year budget.

After years of legislative attempts to force state police to use body cameras, Col. Chris Wagner, the head of state police, told the Monitor during an interview in September that after months of study, he supported getting cameras into police vehicles.

The Monitor requested documents related to the department’s research into the implementation of camera technology to see how the program might work and its costs.

What the department has released gives some insight into the scope of the project, should it ever be approved, but still offers little analysis of cost, or the benefit of cruiser cameras over body cameras.

According to documents dated September 2017, the department had considered body cameras at one point. The department initially hoped to obtain “150 to 200 in-car and body cameras” for its state troopers and marine patrol. At the time, the department had 360 sworn officers.

The documents show that the department was interested in a device that provided front, rear and side views of a cruiser, as well as the potential for audio recording.

The department also identified managing the collection of audio and video media produced by the cameras as an obstacle in a separate document.

“Since much of the media collected is related to specific cases, it must be made available to prosecution and defense teams. Extracting and validating the pertinent video sequences for release has proved burdensome and resource intensive,” the RFI read in part.

It took the department several months to partially fill the request for records.

David Hilts, legal counsel for the DOS commissioner’s office, cited workload and record sensitivity as to why more information wasn’t released sooner.

All of the documents had to be reviewed for proprietary information, Hilts said in mid-February.

“The challenge in identifying information that is publicly available regarding a process for making a decision, before a decision has been made, is that 91-A recognizes that drafts and other records that are part of the deliberative process are not publicly available, in order to protect the integrity of the decision-making process itself,” Hilts wrote in a Feb. 14 email.

Of the six New England states, only New Hampshire and Rhode Island state police have no widespread use cameras in any form.

State Rep. Renny Cushing has been pushing for years to make state police use of cameras mandatory.

“In the classic New Hampshire way, there’s not any money that’s been provided for it,” he said last year.

Department of Safety spokesman Michael Todd said Wednesday that while the camera request was not included in the budget, the department was pleased that the governor included appropriations for other “high-priority requests.”

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