The Cheshire County Sheriff’s Office unveiled its body camera program earlier this month, while the Keene Police Department continues to work toward launching its own, leaders of both agencies said this week.
After a two-month trial and training period, the sheriff’s office officially implemented its body-worn camera policy Jan. 1, Sheriff Eli Rivera said.
“For the most part, you know, I think we’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “We’re just doing business as usual. It’s just now we have another tool deployed.”
The adoption of body cameras by these two Keene-based agencies comes amid national calls for more accountability in law enforcement after high-profile cases of police brutality and misconduct that included the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The state’s Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency (LEACT), which was created after Floyd’s death, recommended that departments be encouraged to use this technology, although research on whether body cameras actually reduce police use of force is mixed.
Keene Police Chief Steve Stewart said the main goals of using body cameras at his department include enhancing public transparency and trust, documenting encounters between police and the public, protecting officers from unwarranted accusations of misconduct, and better investigating citizens’ complaints and improving evidence for investigative purposes.
Rivera has also touted the cameras’ benefits.
“They will not only protect our deputies, we’ll also have more transparency on how we do our business,” Rivera previously said.
The sheriff’s office purchased the body cameras for many of its officers using $47,500 in state funds approved by the N.H. Executive Council and an equal match from the county government.
Rivera said the department has deployed nine cameras from BodyWorn by Utility, a Georgia-based company. Officers wear the cameras on their chest with a wristband that allows them to turn them on and off.
The BodyWorn cameras’ activation system automates with the sheriff’s dispatch, allowing cameras to be turned on automatically with livestream video footage for certain types of calls such as a reported crime or vehicle stop. The body cameras are also activated when officers turn on their vehicle’s blue lights, withdraw their weapon or are in a position indicating they are down.
Officers can manually turn the camera off when there’s no need for it to be activated or in places where people have an expectation of privacy, such as in a hospital or private home, according to Rivera.
“For the most part, I would say we’re probably 80 percent at where we need to be,” he said. “We’re still going through some kinks, you know, and making sure the technology is working properly and is up to the standards that we were hoping to get.”
Officers have found an issue with signal dead spots around the county due to the terrain, causing camera activations to be delayed, Rivera explained. When this occurs, the officers must activate their body cameras manually.
Besides other technology kinks, such as the need to update and integrate the camera and dispatch softwares, Rivera said the body camera program is working.
“The majority of the [officers] are loving it because it kind of gives them a more accurate version of what they’re doing,” he said. “It becomes a tool or a scribe for them while they’re at a scene, you know, because it is timestamped.”
The Keene Police Department expects to begin the process of outfitting officers with body cameras within the next few weeks, Stewart said.
“It’s all been done, all the paperwork’s done and … we’re just in the final stages of sorting out the legal departments reviewing the sales agreements and contracts and hammering out small details,” Stewart said. “It’s really just a matter of getting those applications approved and making it through the bureaucracy.”
The Keene Police Department is working with Pileum, a reseller for Utility’s BodyWorn camera systems.
From the time the contract is signed, it will be around 45 to 60 days before the company can install the cameras and train Keene officers for their use, according to Stewart.
“So say if we went from Feb. 1, we’re looking at sometime mid-March or somewhere along those lines,” he said.
Stewart said the department’s five-year contract with Pileum costs $445,000, which includes 44 body cameras for all officers, 16 in-car video systems, unlimited cloud storage, 24/7 tech assistance, and some spare cameras.
Congress approved $415,000 in December toward the program, with the remaining $30,000 split evenly between state grants and county funds, Stewart explained.
“We expect some other costs, some equipment costs and uniform costs that won’t be covered by either grant that we’ll have to pay for as well,” Stewart said.
“... The installation and the basic user training will be done by the company but then we have our own training that we need to do in-house on our own policy and the state laws as it relates to the program,” he said.
Since launching the sheriff’s office’s program, Rivera said it has not received any pushback from citizens. He said people have been very positive when an officer informs them they are being recorded with a body camera, and that he hopes to add cameras to patrol cars in the future.
Rivera said he performs a monthly audit of recordings to continue to monitor officers’ adjustment to the new equipment. By reviewing the recordings, he can see if the cameras are being used correctly, and in adherence with the office’s policy for their use.