According to a recent Associated Press survey, New York is one of five states in the country where the primary law enforcement agency isn’t equipped with dashboard or body cameras.
Body cameras can provide transparency between the community and law enforcement and corroborating evidence for arrests and prosecutions, according to the National Institute of Justice’s website. Dashboard cameras help by providing documentation of traffic violations and citizen behavior, according to the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s website.
The New York State Police, according to a report by the office of state Attorney General Letitia James, is the second-largest law enforcement agency in the state and the ninth-largest in the nation. Yet last fall, NYSP announced that it had no plans to outfit its members with body-worn cameras, according to the report, which was an investigation into the death of Robert L. Scott.
Scott died May 20, 2018, following an interaction with a Wayne County Sheriff’s Department deputy and two state troopers. Though no evidence that Scott was treated with “excessive or otherwise unjustified force” was found, James used the incident to recommend the NYSP seek funding to outfit its members with body cameras.
“The State Police utilizes state of the art equipment to detect and prevent crime and protect officers in performing their duties,” said NYSP in an email to The Daily Star. “The State Police has been and continues to evaluate new technologies and believes body-worn and dash-mounted cameras are effective investigative tools. During the 1990s, State Police had about 200 marked patrol vehicles outfitted with VHS cameras, mainly on the interstates. We did not have the funding to maintain and upgrade the equipment as time went on. Later, we did use federal grant funding to outfit a limited number of patrol vehicles with digital cameras, but those cameras also required costly maintenance.”
The Daily Star did not receive a response from NYSP to further queries about if it plans to apply for more grants to purchase body and dashboard cameras, the federal grant funding it mentioned, how much money the equipment would cost, the “costly maintenance” required for the cameras and when dashboard and body cameras were last used by state police.
Some counties within the state, including Otsego, Delaware, Chenango and Schoharie, use or plan to use body and dashboard cameras.
The Otsego County Sheriff’s Department has had body cameras for about four years for road patrol and for the corrections division. Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin said that because of the cost, the department couldn’t have video in patrol cars. He said he believes these technologies will eventually become more prevalent throughout law enforcement.
“No. 1, it’s for accountability,” Devlin said. “They’re seeing things unfolded, and not just seeing things from an officer’s perspective.”
Delaware County Sheriff’s Department officers were outfitted with body cameras in June. Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond said the department had dashboard cameras in its vehicles for a year, but the systems became outdated so the department decided to save its money for the body cameras.
“If you really want to earn the public’s trust, which all law enforcement officers should want to do, the body camera is a no-brainer,” he said.
DuMond added that the cameras “add a level of transparency that takes all of the subjectivity out of a situation” and said he encourages any agency to seriously consider body cameras for those reasons.
The Schoharie County Sheriff’s Department will soon institute a body camera program and is writing up a policy, Schoharie County Sheriff Ronald Stevens said. It’s something the department has wanted to do for a while, he said, but hasn’t had the means to accomplish until recently. Money from paid DWI fines will fund the body cameras.
“It preserves the information that’s being obtained by the law enforcement officer,” Stevens said. “It preserves the rights of the citizens, and it gives us an accurate account of various situations.”
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.