Local law enforcement agencies have taken a pledge of transparency, and the layers between the police and the public are about to become as clear as video.
A program aimed at equipping Ocean State law enforcement with body-worn cameras (BWCs) has made substantial progress since its launch last year.
“The Johnston Police Department is still in the initial phases of implementing a body-worn camera program and we are committed to providing another layer of transparency and accountability to the public we proudly serve,” said Johnston Police Chief Joseph P. Razza.
Johnston, Cranston, and many other Rhode Island cities and towns have made progress toward implementing the program.
“We are in negotiations with a vendor and still looking at how much funding we will be receiving from the State of Rhode Island to implement the program,” Razza said. “A state-wide policy governing the use of BWC’s was a critical element that has been overcome and once funding becomes available the process should speed up.”
Cranston’s Police Department is looking at several body cameras companies for 90 of the department’s officers. Chief of Police Col. Michael Winquist said Monday that officers up to the lieutenant rank will wear the cameras.
Cranston’s department will look at purchasing cameras once the statewide policy is finalized. Winquist believes the cameras will benefit both the department and public by increasing transparency and strengthening prosecutions through video footage. Cranston Police already participated in a pilot program back in 2018 using Axon body cameras — which are used across the country, as well as locally in Providence and Newport.
The department is leaning toward Axon cameras and funding from the state and U.S. Department of Justice will go toward buying the cameras, storage cost and administrative costs. Winquist said there should be no additional costs to the city.
Meanwhile, the Warwick Police Department is participating in a body worn camera pilot program.
Sixteen patrol officers started wearing Axon body cameras during their patrols. These officers represent each of the three patrol shifts, which will allow the department to have body worn cameras on the road 24 hours per day, according to Warwick Police.
This pilot program is expected to last for approximately two months and will then be expanded to all front line patrol officers and field supervisors.
In accordance with the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association Twenty for 2020 campaign, the department has explored the establishment of a body worn camera program and conducted extensive research into the logistics and funding of such a program. Along with other Rhode Island police agencies, “we are committed to the program; believing that is an important step towards building police and community relationships and improving accountability within the communities that we serve,” reads a department release.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Neronha and Colonel Darnell S. Weaver, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of Public Safety, recently announced the start of the formal notice and comment period for the draft regulation to establish a statewide policy for the use and operation of police body-worn cameras.
“Last summer, Rhode Island enacted a statewide program that aims to equip every frontline police officer and supervisor with body-worn cameras,” according to a press release from Neronha’s office. “As part of the program, the Attorney General and Director of the Department of Public Safety, in consultation with the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association (RIPCA), were tasked with promulgating rules and regulations to create a statewide policy for the use and operation of body-worn cameras that participating departments will be required to adopt.”
The state’s top law enforcement officials have been reviewing “extensive stakeholder input and engagement” over the past year.
“Obtaining public input from a wide range of stakeholders during the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking period has helped us ensure that this statewide policy reflects best practices, and is responsive to the needs and expectations of our communities,” Neronha said. “This policy ensures important interactions between law enforcement and members of the public are documented, advances the protection of important constitutional rights including privacy, and ensures transparency and accountability for critical use of force incidents. I am grateful to our partners and to all who have participated throughout this process, and I encourage the public’s continued participation during this notice and comment period. I am looking forward to bringing this process to a conclusion and getting cameras on Rhode Island’s frontline officers.”
The statewide policies address when an officer should activate or deactivate a camera, retention and access to body-worn camera footage, and specific protocols for use of force incidents, among other issues.
“The widespread use of body-worn cameras by members of law enforcement will be a critical tool in providing the accountability and transparency that both the police and the public desire,” Col. Weaver said. “Our team has worked closely with key stakeholders to develop appropriate policies to govern the use of the cameras and the footage the cameras will generate. We hope that members of the public will engage in the process and share their input so that the program can (move) forward expeditiously.”
Police Chiefs throughout the state have shown support for the program.
“The Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association is a strong supporter and advocate for the use of body-worn cameras,” said Sean Corrigan, RIPCA President and Narragansett Police Chief. “We recognize the immense value they provide in accountability, transparency and professionalism as they work to increase police training opportunities, expedite the truthful resolution of police misconduct complaints, and promote public trust. One of the key components of our Twenty for 2020 campaign was a pledge for every department in the state to research the feasibility and oversee the implementation of body-worn cameras. We are grateful to every stakeholder involved in the process of developing this new statewide policy, and look forward to taking this important step forward.”
(Beacon Communications Reporter Emma Bartlett contributed to this story.)