The People’s Forum, an opportunity for the community most interested in economic and social justice to interview and hold accountable the Providence mayoral candidates, explored some interesting ideas not usually brought up in other forums or debates.
The questionnaires the candidates filled out for the People’s Forum are essentially promises to the community, and as such offer interesting insights into the future of Providence in terms of community safety, violence and economic well being.
One item that frontrunners Jorge Elorza and Buddy Cianci both agreed to concerned the idea of outfitting police officers with video cameras, to be operated under the following guidelines:
The Providence Police Department shall adopt written procedures regarding the use of video and/or audio recording devices such as, but not limited to: dashboard cameras, body cameras, and digital audio recorders. These policies shall be public records and shall include, but not be limited to, the following standards:
a) All stops conducted by police officials with such equipment shall be recorded. The recording shall begin no later than when an officer first signals the vehicle or individual to stop or arrives at the scene of an ongoing stop begun by another law enforcement officer, and the recording shall continue until the stop is completed and the subject departs, or until the officer’s participation in the stop ends.
b) The subject of a stop shall be advised by the officer that the encounter is being recorded.
c) A chain-of-custody record of the recordings shall be maintained.
d) A subject of a stop that was recorded by a video/audio surveillance camera, and/or his or her legal counsel, shall have the right to view and listen to the recording at the police station and to obtain a copy of the recording involving him or her within ten (10) business days of the request;
e) The policy shall establish a minimum period of retention for such recordings of no less than sixty (60) days, and procedures to ensure that the recording equipment is in proper working order, and shall bar the destruction of any recording related to an incident that is the subject of a pending complaint, misconduct investigation or civil or criminal proceeding. Such recordings shall be retained for a minimum of ten (10) days after the final resolution of such investigation or proceeding, including the time for any appeal;
f) The policy shall explicitly prohibit any violation of these requirements, including any attempts to disengage or tamper with the video/audio surveillance equipment or to otherwise fail to record stops as specified herein;
While on duty and in interaction with the public, police shall be prohibited from using personal audio or video recording devices. Only devices subject to the policy outlined above shall be permitted.
The guidelines above are a good start on the kind of safeguards Providence would have to adopt along with police body cameras. The ACLU has a great breakdown of the various privacy and rights concerns such cameras will inevitably raise, as well as suggestions to help mitigate negative effects. There is a fair bit of overlap between the ideas suggested by the People’s Forum and the ACLU’s analysis, so developing a smart policy should not be a problem.
Elorza agreed with the need for police to wear cameras, as did Cianci, though Cianci wrote that he sees the cost of buying and maintaining such equipment as requiring “a long term budget that includes projections for buying this type of equipment.” However, given the potential savings in terms of lawsuits and court costs that police body cameras have shown in areas that have tested the concept, there is no question of affordability.
According to German Lopez at Vox:
In New York City, a report from the city’s public advocate found that outfitting the entire police department with body cameras would cost around $33 million. But in 2013, the city paid $152 million as a result of claims of police misconduct. If body cameras could reduce those claims by just one-fifth, the devices would pay for themselves.
Early studies of the effects of police body cameras have been encouraging. In Rialto CA, complaints against officers fell 88% and officer’s use of force dropped 60%.
So it seems that whoever wins the election to become mayor of Providence, police body cameras will become a reality in the next few years.
Welcome to the 21st Century.