All Rhode Island police officers from across the state will soon be equipped with body cameras thanks to millions of dollars in funding from a statewide grant program.
Law enforcement agencies in the state will spend roughly $16 million in federal and state grants to purchase the cameras and pay for their operating and management costs, according to officials in charge of the statewide body-worn camera program.
The program, headed by the state attorney general, announced grant awards to 42 police departments across the state.
Officials say the program will enable departments to purchase a total of 1,773 cameras, which amounts to roughly one camera per every front-line officer in the state.
“That is a lot of law-enforcement officers [who] will now have the tools to bring us into the century in which we are operating,” Attorney General Peter Neronha said.
Rhode Island State Police Colonel Darnell Weaver said the grant program took months of coordination and planning by police leaders and their agencies.
He hopes the cameras will contribute to greater accountability and transparency between police and the public.
“A key milestone as we work to address the issues that are challenges in policing today. Cameras will add transparency, provide accountability and give a point of view, of perspective, to every police contact,” Weaver said.
To receive the grand money, agencies must comply with certain conditions and regulations regarding the use and operation of body cameras, which will take effect on October 26.
According to Weaver, the rules and regulations “protect constitutional rights, document critical interactions between the police and members of the public, promote transparency and reflect the thoughtful input of citizens and advocacy groups.”
Under the regulations, non-undercover officers are responsible for attending to body camera equipment before and after each shift and activating the camera in appropriate situations, such as responding to calls or initiating “any investigative or enforcement activity involving a member of the public.”
They must also make sure the camera is on and recording before beginning any pursuit or emergency driving or while assisting another officer in such situations.
The new policy also includes regulations for when police must release footage to the public depicting the use of deadly force.
The policy states that footage must be released “no later than upon the substantial completion of the investigation.”
According to the policy, “substantial completion” of an investigation refers to when evidence has been gathered, and witnesses have been interviewed.
The program also gives officers discretion to turn off the body camera in situations when someone is cooperating with officers or providing a tip and does not want to be identified.
South Kingstown Police Chief Matthew C. Moynihan said a group of officers have been working with the cameras since March as part of a pilot program or a trial run governing the use of the equipment and its policy.
South Kingston police and other agencies hope to receive the cameras by January 1.
Certain agencies, such as the Providence Police Department, already have cameras and thus are not participating in the program.
The only agency without cameras not participating is the Smithfield Police Department.
Mike Imondi, president of Providence’s police union, has long touted the benefits of body cameras, not only for providing accountability and transparency to the public, but also allowing supervisors to monitor and assist officers on duty.
Imondi referred to a computer program that allows supervisors to randomly select video clips from officers’ cameras and to monitor their performance.
Police chiefs from across the state attended the event at the attorney general’s headquarters in Cranston to announce the program.
Jim Vincent, president of the Providence Branch of the NAACP, said that body cameras have become a “best practice” throughout the country.
“Not only was this a worthwhile idea,” he said, “but it was a worthwhile investment.”