Town of New Paltz police officers will retain some leeway in deciding when to turn their body cameras off or on, police commissioners agreed, because leaving them on throughout all shifts carries costs in terms of officers’ ability to do their jobs, their morale and a significant hit to the budget, as well. Leaving them on nearly always was a recommendation that came out of the town’s Reform and Reinvention Collaborative, and it’s not one that Chief Robert Lucchesi supports for those reasons.
The chief pointed out that an additional $6,000 was being requested to pay for backup storage of all this video, which reached 845 terabytes in May of this year, and the storage requirements would surge if they were left running nearly always. What’s more, these data are downloaded while the camera’s being recharged, and the chief said that the process would take so much longer that six more cameras would have to be purchased for the rotation.
Officers generally activate them when they are engaged in encounters of any sort, with exceptions made in the case of interviewing juveniles, or sexual assault victims, or when in the officer’s judgment it is impeding the ability to do the job. Lucchesi said that when responding to domestic violence calls, for example, it is sometimes more difficult to deescalate a situation when it’s on camera.
Commissioners Neil Bettez and Dan Torres recalled that a considerable amount of time and research went into developing the body camera policy, comparing the rules in place in a variety of other police departments. This recommendation was intended to push the envelope, therefore it may not be surprising that none of those other policies called for leaving the cameras on except in rare circumstances.
Lucchesi also said that keeping the cameras on constantly would impact morale, because it’s seen as a violation of privacy. The chief wears such a camera while on duty, and said that this would change the work environment significantly enough that it would require negotiation at the bargaining table to bring about in any case.
At their next meeting, council members anticipate having a draft ready to share as they set a public hearing.