Police Body Cam Program Hits Bump; Original Cameras Obsolete, Needed Replacement

The township police department will be receiving new body worn cameras, similar to the one pictured, after the original cameras were found to be obsolete before they could be deployed. Photo: L3 Mobile Vision.

Technology, like time, waits for no one.

Township police found that out recently when the decision was made to roll out the body worn camera program, a pilot program using cameras that had been purchased in 2015 through a grant from the state Attorney General.

The plan hit a road bump recently when police officials were told by the camera’s manufacturer that the cameras were already obsolete, said department spokesman Lt. Phil Rizzo.

“Unfortunately through time the battery degrades, as well as the fact the technology improves,” he said.

Chief Lawrence Roberts okayed the purchase of three new cameras, using the department’s forfeiture funds, Rizzo said. The cameras cost about $600 each, he said.

The delay was caused because the department did not want to deploy the cameras until the state Attorney General’s and Somerset County Prosecutor’s guidelines were released, and officials could work them into a departmental policy. That took a while and, in January, Rizzo said the department was solidifying its policy.

Like the original purchase, the new cameras are not costing tax money.

“We now have the most up-to-date cameras that are available,” Rizzo said. The batteries have about a 9-hour run time, as compared to about a 3-hour run time for the previous models, he said.

“The cameras are a little bit smaller, the picture has a little higher resolution,” Rizzo said.

Township police run 10.5-hour shifts, so Rizzo said, while the cameras may not last an entire shift if run continuously, “we don’t anticipate they’re going to run the entire shift. They would be on just during interactions.”

The cameras will be rolled out as soon as they arrive, Rizzo said. He said they were ordered within the last two weeks.

Rizzo said how the cameras will be deployed has not yet been determined.

“It may be one per shift, it may be one on one shift, two on another,” he said. “Those details are still to be worked out.”

Roberts has said that he would be studying the idea carefully, from the initial announcement that he was looking into the feasibility of the body cameras. He said he’s been concerned about the “back-end” costs of the undertaking, and wanted to make sure it was financially feasible.

The department was awarded three cameras in December 2015 through a grant program from the state Attorney General’s office. Franklin’s was one of 176 departments statewide which received a total of $2.5 million for the cameras at the time.

The cameras are the least expensive part of the program, Rizzo has said. There’s also costs involved with charging and docking stations and the servers on which the videos have to be maintained, some for a number of years. An additional cost is the person whose job it will be to review and tag the videos, Rizzo has said.

Rizzo said that the use of forfeiture funds to buy these replacement cameras would be a one-shot deal.

“Moving forward, we would no longer be able to use forfeiture funds, they would have to become a capital expenditure,” he said.

The cameras are only warrantied for three years, he said, and a server upgrade is needed every five years.

The department’s server was recently upgraded, Rizzo said, “so we’re set for now.”

“Until we get the program up and running, we won’t know if that storage will be adequate,” he said. “We may find that’s not adequate and may have to spend more money on more storage.”

“So with this project, while we believe it’s a viable project and a worthwhile project, there are a lot of long-term expenditures and a lot of long-term issues that come along that some people don’t necessarily see,” he said.

Rizzo said Roberts has several considerations in mind concerning the program.

“The chief is optimistic that we’ll find a workable program that is a good balance between officer safety, giving the public transparency and maintaining a budget that is workable,” he said. “This is not as simple as putting a go-pro on an officer.”

Rizzo predicted that body worn cameras will one day be as ubiquitous as the mobile cameras now in patrol cars.

“These cameras are going to be a useful tool, eventually,” he said. “They are not going to be the end all and be all … but they are going to be another useful tool that we’ll be able to use in a helpful way.”


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