Whately Police Dept. buying body cameras

  • Warwick Police Officer John Stewart wears a body camera in May 2017, shortly after the department purchased them. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2020 2:51:34 PM

WHATELY — Officers with the Whately Police Department will soon be equipped with the department’s first set of body cameras.

Police Chief Jim Sevigne recently appeared before the Select Board seeking support for his plan to purchase body cameras and related equipment using leftover money previously appropriated for officer training in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

He told board members that a body camera program “meshes well” with the original intent for the money that wasn’t used.

“Training will be a huge component,” Sevigne said, adding that officers will be trained on how the body cameras are used, when they should be used, how data will be stored and how the department will handle public records requests.

The board ultimately took a formal vote at a subsequent meeting in support of the chief’s plans.

“It seemed like body cameras were in line with the use of the original purpose of the money,” said Select Board member Joyce Palmer-Fortune. “And it seemed like he had put some thought into it.”

Select Board member Jonathan Edwards said he sees the program as a win-win for both police officers and residents.

“We value the job that our officers do, but we also value the need to protect our citizens and make sure people are treated properly and fairly,” Edwards said. “We try to be ahead of the curve and I think that the body cams are the natural evolution of our policing efforts.”

Sevigne said he has ordered three body cameras, storage hardware and a dedicated computer to keep evidentiary videos and photographs. The total cost of equipment was $3,500.

He explained that the cameras — which will be shared by officers — will be turned on during any public interactions, motor vehicle stops or pursuits, police responses involving criminal or civil violations of the law, or use of force incidents, for example.

Policies have been written, he noted, and training for officers will take place over the next few weeks.

Investing in body cameras is something Sevigne said he has been looking into for several years now.

Initially, he applied for a grant, but the department was unable to receive the funding.

“There’s a number of reasons why I think they’re beneficial to have, especially given the current state of the country,” Sevigne said. “People are almost expecting to see the body cam footage.”

In particular, he said, reviewing footage from body cameras would allow an officer to write more accurate incident reports.

Select Board Chair Frederick Orloski asked at one of the meetings if there are many towns in Franklin County that have already implemented body camera programs.

Sevigne said he was aware of a few departments looking into purchasing body cameras, but that they hadn’t rolled out any such programs.

In Warwick, body cameras were implemented by the Police Department in April 2017.

“They’re outstanding,” said Police Chief David Shoemaker. “I wouldn’t be without them. … They’re deployed in every interaction with the public.”

In addition to often being requested by the Northwestern district attorney’s office as evidence in criminal cases, the department largely uses body cam footage for training purposes, according to Shoemaker.

“We can actually go back and point out how we might have done something different — how the interaction was good, how it could have been better,” he said.

In Shoemaker’s department, all five officers — should they ever be on duty at the same time — can be equipped with a camera.

“I’m a really strong believer in these,” he said. “It creates a sense of … ease between citizens and police knowing that encounters are being recorded. That in itself can be comforting a lot of times, too.”

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