The Hartford Police Department has begun rolling out body cams to its officers to use on a daily basis. Using a combination of state grant money and funding from the city, the department purchased 325 cameras. The cameras, supporting equipment, and some cloud storage space came from Axon, a company that started out making tasers in the 1990s. Since the launch of its pilot program in February, officers have recorded more than 12,000 videos with the body-worn cameras.
"I think it provides a level of transparency and accountability to not only our police department in the city but the community at large," said Captain Jeffrey Rousseau. "Moving forward with this, it provides protection to our officers, it provides accurate depictions of the incidents and I think it's also a win-win for everyone involved, not only in our police department but also stakeholders, the community, the city."
Officer Noelia Resto has been with Hartford police for 18 years. She was one of 40 officers to receive her camera during the pilot program in February. Since then, she's recorded more than 300 videos.
"I think the amount of time that I'm using it now, it's more like second nature," Resto said. "It's like alright--I'm turning my lights on, I'm turning this on, so it's a part of my process of how I approach the call. I think with time, if everyone gets the same opportunity, it'll be easier to use."
As an officer within the traffic division, traffic stops are her most common interaction with civilians.
"I try that every time I have a stop, as soon as I safely stop, I turn it on," Resto said. "Once I'm done with the stop, I go ahead and turn it off."
The camera has a large button in the center than officers press to turn it on, off and place it on standby. It beeps each time the mode is changed. Resto has hers configured to vibrate every two minutes while it's on even if it's not recording.
She also uses the accompanying Axon View smartphone app to categorize each video by the type of interaction. There are 21 different categories including traffic stops, arrests, routine service, and use of force. Each category details how long the video must be stored, from 90 days, a few years or until manually deleted. Only system adminstrators, not officers, supervisors or detectives, can delete videos.
Rousseau said the pilot program and on-going trainings aim to ensure officers know how to properly wear and use the cameras.
"Some of officers have worked here 15, 20 years out in the field and they've never had this little block attached to their chests that's kind of weighing them down a little bit," Rousseau said. "So it took some time to get used to as far as geting the mindset of an incident happens or seeing something that needs to be recorded."
State grant funding is provided by the Office of Policy and Management. According to the Criminal Justice Policy and Planning Division, the Hartford police department received $360,250.63.
There is no cap for how much a department could request but the program itself has a $10 million budget.
Lt. Jonas Riccitelli estimates the department will pay an additional $237,000 annually for online cloud storage. Riccitelli says that the out-of-pocket costs that departments are responsible for to fully use the cameras and manage the videos can become a financial burden. Annually per camera, it costs $240 for a warranty, $250 for cloud storage and $180 for access to Axon Evidence, the cloud-based device data management system.
Of the 94 independently operated police departments in the state, 36 have received grant funding, alongside four university police departments.
Because of the state grant, the department has to abide by the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council's policy, which details procedures for using the camera, storage and release of footage, and other related protocol.
Departments do have autonomy when it comes to choosing the length of recall footage that can be captured. The cameras have the capacity to record up to two minutes of recall footage, which is the silent video that's captured before the officer presses record. Hartford's police department chose to program cameras to retain 60 seconds of recall footage.
Rousseau says that sometimes, when people know they're being recorded it can help to "de-escalate or calm down a situation," or "deter people from negative behavior."
The department plans to rollout all of its cameras by the end of the year. There are around 140 officers actively using body cams. They're also looking into additional technology that could automatically activate the camera once an officer opens their car door or takes their gun out of its holster.