ALBANY — A nationwide Associated Press survey recently found the New York State Police are one of the few large-scale city and state police agencies across the U.S. that do not use body-worn cameras.
The results of the study were met with a strong response from the New York Civil Liberties Union and state Attorney General Letitia James, who have called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers to take action.
Body-worn cameras have been used to clear authorities of wrongdoing, uncover misconduct, and paint a larger picture of what happened during high-stakes incidents, advocates and state officials say. James’ office was tasked with investigating officer-involved deaths of unarmed civilians as part of a 2015 executive order signed by Cuomo.
A bill that would require state police to wear body-worn cameras was introduced in the state Legislature this fall and backed by state Sen. Kevin Parker, D-21, and state Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-55. The bill would also include state university police officers. As of Monday, the bill was still in committee.
New York State Police is not alone. Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts also don’t have state law enforcement agencies that use body-worn cameras, according to the survey.
In the Twin Counties, the Hudson Police Department is working on becoming the first full-time police agency to have its members utilize body-worn cameras. The village of Chatham equipped its part-time agency with the cameras several years ago. Greene County Sheriff-elect Peter Kusminsky said Monday he will be looking into body cameras for sheriff’s deputies.
A spokesman for state police declined to comment.
“It is not appropriate for state police to comment on proposed legislation,” Trooper Aaron Hicks, public information officer for the state police, said Monday.
James’ office is using forfeiture money to fund body-worn cameras at local departments in the state. Most recently, on Nov. 1, James presented the Rochester Police Department with $163,000 for 100 body-worn camera systems.
“These funds go a long way in increasing public safety and protecting communities in Rochester and across Monroe County,” James said in a statement.
But James has recognized that the biggest hurdle for state police is cost. With more than 5,000 sworn members, the division of the state police is the second largest law enforcement agency in the state and ninth largest in the nation.
Hudson officials estimated body cameras cost $800 per unit, but that does not include maintenance, data storage, training and fulfilling requests from defense attorneys and the public under the Freedom of Information Law.
State Police Benevolent Association President Thomas Mungeer could not be reached for comment. Many offices in Albany were closed Monday due to a snowstorm that swept the Capital Region.
In recent years, after a spate of fatal police-involved shootings sparked nationwide protests, politicians and community activists seized on police body cameras as a way to restore public trust. Approximately half of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies have some type of body-camera program, with many still in the pilot stage. Some outfit patrol officers with the cameras, while others require everyone to wear a camera, including police chiefs. No government agency or industry group tracks the number of departments that have ended their body-camera programs.
But although the cameras were widely adopted, many departments — especially in smaller jurisdictions — are now dropping or delaying their programs, finding it too expensive to store and manage the thousands of hours of footage. Costs have spiked in recent years in some regions of the country because of new state laws that require long-term storage of video footage.
Most departments that have ended body-camera programs are in smaller jurisdictions; Axon, a body-camera manufacturer, said every one of its clients that have canceled contracts cited costs.
When East Dundee, a tiny suburb of Chicago, ordered body cameras for its 17 police officers, Terry Mee, the police chief at the time, told local reporters the devices would promote “officer safety” and “positive interaction with the public.”
But before a single incident could be recorded in the village of 3,000 people, Mee retired, and the new chief, George Carpenter, persuaded the Village Board in February to cancel the program, arguing that the $20,000 annual fee for the cameras and video storage couldn’t be justified amid budget concerns.
Body cameras “are wonderful for winning public trust,” Carpenter said. “But it’s expensive.”
Reporter Sarah Trafton and The Washington Post contributed to this report.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.