Connecticut lawmakers mull more state aid for police cameras
HARTFORD — Connecticut legislators expect to revisit a law passed last year to encourage municipal police departments to equip officers with body cameras, after some police chiefs expressed concern over what they call the huge cost of storing camera recordings.
The Democratic co-chairmen of the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, Sen. Timothy Larson of East Hartford and Rep. Stephen Dargan of West Haven, say they plan to review the law in the legislative session that begins Feb. 3, possibly to see if more money should be earmarked for video storage.
“We certainly don’t want this to be burdensome,” Larson said. “But it’s sort of early in the pipeline and we’ll take a look at it.”
The law requires state police and public university officers to start using body cameras by next July 1. Municipal police only are required to begin using body cameras by July 1 if they accept state funding for cameras. The statute was in response to police shootings of civilians around the country and calls for greater police accountability, and it also includes new requirements for use-of-force investigations and hiring of minority officers.
Officials approved $15 million in bonding for a grant program for body cameras, $2 million of which is going to state police. The rest is available to municipalities to help them buy cameras and pay some associated costs. Lawmakers acknowledged last year that the grant program would not cover all costs related to cameras.
Departments that opt to use state money for cameras must retain recordings for at least 90 days, under a policy released in November by the state Police Officer Standards and Training Council. But if a recording becomes evidence in a case, it would have to be stored a minimum of four years.
Local law enforcement authorities say they support the use of body cameras, but the storage costs can be prohibitive.
Putnam Police Chief Rick Hayes, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said he has decided to delay implementing body cameras at his 15-officer department for a year, in hopes that questions about costs and exactly when officers have to turn on the cameras are resolved.
Just before the camera law took effect Jan. 1, Berlin police stopped using the six cameras they had been testing because of questions over storage costs and when exactly officers have to use them, Chief Paul Fitzgerald said.
Other police chiefs are still debating whether to use body cameras because of cost and usage questions, Hayes said. Several police departments in the state are already using body cameras, while others — including Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven — are in various stages of consideration.
Hayes said video storage costs could run $50,000 to $60,000 a year for some departments that would have to store hundreds or thousands of hours of video, either on new computer servers they would have to buy or fee-based cloud storage services. He said there are other concerning costs, including having staff perform the time-consuming task of reviewing video and making required redactions if someone requests video under the state’s public records law.
“I think the concept … of being transparent and releasing this information is good. It protects the officer and the public,” Hayes said. “But I think we have to clarify how it’s going to be done and who’s going to pay for what’s required.”