Justice for All: Departments prep for body camera deadline
Connecticut is one of seven states that now mandates body cameras for police departments -- with the deadline for implementing just over a year away.
"Connecticut had kind of traditionally encouraged police departments, kind of the carrot--here's the funding to get cameras," explains State Rep. Steve Stafstrom. "After the murder of George Floyd and with the call for police accountability last summer, we do now mandate that police departments have body cameras as of July 1, 2022."
Stafstrom is the House Chair of the Judiciary Committee and one of the two principal authors of last year's police accountability legislation. He's been a big proponent of increasing state funds to expand cameras in policing and allowing that money to cover video storage along with the cameras.
"The body cameras themselves are not very expensive. The cost really is on the storage," Stafstrom says.
He tells News 12 the state first started promoting body cameras in 2015, appropriating $12 million to reimburse state police and municipal departments that brought them on.
It coincided with a federal grant program from the Obama administration rolled out after the deadly police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Stamford police were among those awarded federal funds from that grant.
"We did a pilot program," says Lt. Tom Scanlon, who was in charge of researching the grant for the Stamford Police Department. "We initially picked three different companies. Then as a result of our study, we ended up picking the Axon company."
With testing and feedback, it took about three years for the department's full program to be up and running in the spring of 2018.
Patrol, K-9, traffic, all the officers that are on the front lines in uniform dealing with the public on a day-to-day basis are currently wearing body cameras.
Stamford is far from the only department in our area already with body cameras. Many local departments have gotten state grants over the years.
Stafstrom says the list includes Bridgeport, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Milford, Monroe, Newtown, Norwalk, Orange, Redding, Stratford, Wilton, and Woodbridge.
Departments that don't have cameras yet include Derby, which was in the spotlight in late April after an officer-involved shooting.
In nearby Shelton, a trial program is underway.
"Our goal and why we started this so early is that we're outfitted and ready to go before the July 1, 2022 deadline," explains Lt. Robert Kozlowsky of the Shelton Police Department.
Connecticut's law mandates video be kept for a year, and in any officer-involved incident, the footage must be released publicly within four days.
Stafstrom says legislation passed this session penalizes officers who intentionally turn off their cameras when interacting with the public.
"The fact the body camera is off could actually be used as an adverse inference in a court proceeding against either a municipal police department in a civil lawsuit or against a police officer in a criminal use of force instance."
Coming up next Wednesday at 10 p.m., it's part two of our report on body cameras.
We'll look at specific instances where footage has both held police accountable and protected them.
Departments will also share their first impressions of the technology and how they feel now.
Text and reporting by Marissa Alter