Providence Police Will Be First Agency In State To Use Body Cameras
The Providence Police Department will be the first in Rhode Island to start using body cameras in a couple of weeks. For the most part, the cameras are getting broad support. But the rollout is sparking debate over when and how the cameras and their footage should be used, as well as questions about the costs of running the program.
The cameras are particularly favored in communities with heavy police interaction like the south side of Providence. That’s where a string of complaints about the use of excessive force were reported last year. Vianella Nuñez is a resident here. She says she’s thankful to have the police watch the neighborhood, but says she doesn’t trust them to always report what happens in interactions with residents.
“They report what’s convenient for them, not all cases, of course,” explained Nuñez.
For this reason, Nuñez says the cameras are a good idea.
“If they have cameras, you can see what happens from beginning to end,” Nuñez explained.
Jim Vincent is head of the NAACP Providence Branch. He says the cameras could help bridge a history of distrust between communities of color and the police.
But the NAACP and other supporters of the cameras say take issue with police plans for using the footage.
The body worn cameras were in discussion for almost two years. Providence officials, Providence Police, the ACLU of Rhode Island, the Providence NAACP chapter, and city residents all had a chance to give input on the current proposed 10-page policy.
Other cities that have incorporated the use of body cameras in local policing have also struggled with creating policies to determine how long footage should be stored and creating parameters for when cameras should be stored.
Marcela Betancur is a policy associate with the ALCU of Rhode Island, and a vocal critic of the current camera policy. Betancur says the policy is too narrow when it comes to releasing footage.
Current policy doesn’t provide any guidelines for when camera footage should be released to members of the public. As it stands, officers would be able to see the footage if it involved a trial they were being asked to testify in. But for residents, footage would be released on a case by case request under Rhode Island’s Access to Public Records Act- a process which could take time.
The Providence Police Department is one of the biggest in New England to incorporate body cameras, and other cities will be keeping their eyes on the roll out.