Last week, New Paltz police chief Joseph Snyder offered police commissioners a voluminous draft policy on the use of body cameras. A camera-use policy is necessary as officers prepare to use them while on duty. The policy, which will be used as training on the technology begins, will lay out when cameras may or should be turned off, how recordings are secured, and who may view them and under what circumstances.
Officers will have to wear the cameras, which are designed to work with the cameras installed in the police cruisers. There will be times, such as when officers are interviewing victims of sex crimes, that they shouldn’t have them on. That guidance, which came out of the district attorney’s office, is based on the theory that recording such an interview can victimize the individual all over again. Detectives will have the option of whether to wear cameras. licy. Body cameras can be difficult to conceal if one wishes to operate in plain clothes.
There will be a record every time footage is viewed of who took a look and when. Officers may not review a recording prior to writing a defensive action report, because that report is intended to capture what the officer recalled, to help establish why they acted as they did. Viewing a recording beforehand can alter that recollection. Lieutenant Robert Lucchesi called the cameras “a form of hindsight” which may be used to amend reports dealing with the use of force, but not to draft them. Watching before writing is fine when there isn’t a physical scuffle involved.
Superior officers can review any recording for training, Snyder said, but not for discipline. “It’s a union issue,” he explained. If there is another reason to review a particular recording — a defensive action report, for example — then disciplinary measures can be used based on what’s captured by the camera. Defensive action reports reviewed by the sergeant, lieutenant, chief and police commissioners will be supplemented by the existence of footage.
The chief is expressing optimism about the cameras. They do have a limited field of view, and gaps are to be expected in what they capture. What is captured can be used to shore up fallible memories, however, and Snyder believes the use of this technology will bolster support for the police.
Lucchesi noted that memories differing from the recording are to be expected. There may be no malicious and nefarious intent involved. The cameras are a tool for the protection of officers, and are expected to act as a deterrent to bad behavior by anyone whose actions are recorded.