Body-Cam Tech Is A Need, Not A Want

(Opinion)—During the past few months, the budget for the City of New Haven has become a hotly contested issue. The city is facing a $20 million deficit in its Board of Education, rising costs for health benefits in its pensions, and a decline in financial support from the state. These conditions force New Haven residents to live by the motto, “we have to do more with less.” In order to address the city’s problems, some tough budgetary decisions were made.

Last week, the Board of Alders eliminated a position titled, “Body-Worn Camera Tech,” within the New Haven Police Department’s budget. The position is needed to maintain the efficiency and functionality of the body cameras worn by our police officers. The salary for this position was listed at $50,000 per year and, given the budgetary restraints facing the city, the position was removed from consideration.

I believe that the consequences of this action far outweigh the cost to fund this position.

Outfitting officers with body cameras has been a crucial step forward in the process of building trust between police departments and the communities that they serve. The particular lack of trust between the police and communities of color has been on national display since the events that occurred in Ferguson, Mo., New York, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Minnesota. These events have proven that while recorded footage is often difficult to watch, it helps to ensure transparency and accountability for both police and citizens.

The New Haven Police Department is one of the most progressive and community-centered police departments in the country, garnering national recognition in publications like The New York Times. In order to live up to that reputation, the department, with support from the city and the community, fought to secure body cameras for New Haven police officers. The Greater New Haven Clergy Ministerial Alliance strongly supported this effort and helped to secure a grant for this equipment in 2018.

The question that I pose today is: What is the purpose of having body cameras if we are not willing to service and maintain them?

That is the job of the body-worn camera tech—the very position that the Board of Alders recently eliminated. This is like purchasing a car but not securing an auto mechanic in the inevitable event of a malfunction. It is simply not good enough to have body cameras without providing the technical support for their maintenance. What will happen if an altercation arises between the police and community and the body camera footage is not readily available to the public? Such an occurrence could destroy the relationships currently being forged.

We have already seen positive results from the use of body cameras in our city. Earlier this year, body camera footage allowed citizens to witness officers attempting to use their tasers on a gentleman in a convenience store. This resulted in the officers receiving additional training at the Police Academy.

This past Tuesday, we observed officers arrest a young man at the Green in a manner that might have infringed upon his First Amendment right of free speech. Police Chief Anthony Campbell has ordered a probe on this questionable arrest. The results from these two examples would have been impossible without the use of body cameras and the expeditious release of their footage.

I understand that tough choices had to be made in regards to the budget. But, I strongly believe that funding the position of body-worn camera tech is a necessity, not a luxury. We will send the wrong message to our police officers and the community if we fail to fund this position. There is too much at stake for us to play budgetary politics with public safety. I, respectfully, urge the Board of Alders to reconsider their stance.

Steven Anthony Cousin Jr. is a New Haven resident and pastor of Bethel AME Church.


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posted by: 1644 on June 8, 2018  2:32pm

How about funding the position by eliminating the mayor’s drivers?

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 8, 2018  3:44pm

Cutting that position was a wise fiscal move…..expect some long delays in FOI requests…. let’s kick the culpability can down the road once again…

As I said in a previous post regarding the ‘Taser’ incident,
These Camera’s are going to wind up Bankrupting the City…

posted by: JCFremont on June 8, 2018  5:14pm

Can we get a run down on how many of these break down in a year, how difficult is it for the officer to clean and monitor and download it, (They clean their weapons don’t they), and what is the ratio to fix a camera or replace it, as most people do with today’s Made in the lowest labor Cost Country Tech equipment.

posted by: robn on June 8, 2018  8:08pm

I agree that’s this is a short sighted cut because good cops will appreciate body cams backing up their stories.
However, Mr Cousin got the motto wrong.

We need to do LESS with LESS.

Cut lavish govt spending and cut taxes. NHV is the poster child for out of control spending and govt waste.

posted by: Noteworthy on June 10, 2018  8:30am

Escape This Notes:

1. Eliminating this position from the budget was done because Chief Campbell, the mayor, her financial yes men and the BOA at the finance committee level and the BOA as a whole - can’t critically think through a single solitary problem - they only know how to add or subtract from a budget. They are clueless as to how to reassign available positions to a new functionality that actually might make strategic sense.

2. The police department, after education, is the largest budget in the city’s general fund. It has $5 million budgeted for overtime; funds $100,000 a year for the mayor’s chauffeur, and has 550+ positions - about 500 or so non-administrative. Only 408 are currently filled. There is zero possibility these open positions will be filled in the next budget year. That over-budget with benefits is about $5 million.

3. If Campbell or anybody with a scintilla of intelligence wanted to trade out an un-fillable position for a strategic one - no budget watchdog would care. But nobody ever does. They chief adds a position to his bloated out of control budget; the mayor adds a personal social queen to her budget and so on. Stupid.

4. However - isn’t the city foolishly paying some $100K/year to Bethel for a senior center; and for the Great Escape Teen center that Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett - can’t seem to finish, get launched and somehow figure out how to staff something Youth Continuum says will cost $3 million. Oh, and Bartlett’s budget for the current year is running a deficit.

5. The good reverend could also donate all that money taxpayers are giving his church to fund the body cam tech. It’s all about choices.