Westchester County consistently makes use of the latest and greatest technology for its law enforcement officials; major renovations have just been completed on the Westchester County Police Academy and the crime lab, and county police departments have begun to embrace technology in other areas of law enforcement. Greenburgh, Ossining, and Peekskill Police Departments have implemented a body camera program for their officers.
Body cameras—small cameras that clip on to an officer’s uniform or are worn as a headset, and record audio and video of an officer’s interactions—are a large step in helping bridge the divide that exists between the community and law enforcement.
“It’s important to remember that the cameras won’t fix the problem with the community,” says Ossining Police Chief Kevin Sylvester. “But they do show our commitment to keeping officers accountable.” In the year that Ossining has been utilizing the body cameras, there has been a reduction in civilian complaints—which is a major indicator for public satisfaction with the department.
Peekskill Police Chief Eric Johansen—whose department is 6 months into a yearlong body camera trial period—also sees the benefits of the cameras. “People act and behave differently when they know they’re on camera,” he says.
Not only do body cameras help to temper civilian behavior at times, but they also have played an important role in the prosecution of cases. Peekskill PD has been able to use body camera footage in DWI prosecutions, resisting arrest cases, and even a homicide case.
Though the cameras have proven to be useful thus far, there are still some drawbacks. “The back end is incredibly labor intensive,” says Johansen. “We’re still working out some of the details.”
It is important that the public be aware of the limitations of the cameras. “We need to convey a realistic expectation of what the cameras can capture,” says Sylvester. “The lighting and distance play a major role in what [the cameras] can pick up.”
Another question that the departments must tackle is: How much of an officer’s shift needs to be captured? While some members of the public are in favor of every moment being recorded, this is slightly unrealistic. “We have to balance the rights of the police officers as individuals with the rights of the public,” says Johansen.
The current solution provided is that the officers start recording with the body cameras when responding to a call. This allows law enforcement to keep some level of privacy, while helping the public feel protected.