Hugh McQuaid Photo
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Police Chief Dean Esserman (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Police Chief Dean Esserman testified Tuesday in support of a bill developing a program that would test police body cameras for one year in three Connecticut municipalities.

The legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee heard public testimony on the bill, which would fund a program to purchase and monitor body cameras to be worn by police officers in one city, one medium-sized town, and one small town in Connecticut.

Harp said the bill spoke directly to police accountability following police-involved deaths last year in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and Cleveland.

“We are living with dangerous fallout from these incidents. Protests, distrust, uncertainty and, in some communities, a growing chasm between police officers and those they are sworn to protect and serve,” Harp said. “Let’s experiment with these cameras.”

Esserman said body cameras benefit police officers as well as members of the community because they provide “neutral truth” of how an incident unfolded.

“The camera will never be a fix-all for everything, but it will be a step in the right direction that, I’ve come to learn, most officers would actually like to wear. They feel it’s absolutely in everyone’s best interest,” he said.

Esserman said lawmakers must wrestle with a policy dictating when the cameras are required to be switched on and when they may be turned off.

“We’re people inside that uniform,” he said.

Esserman said the cameras could also raise privacy concerns for some of the people police encounter, such as crime victims.

“There are times when officers are taking information from a victim of a crime — in their own home, privately and personally — where one has to trust the judgment of the officer, that this is not good for [the victim],” he said.

But Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, told Esserman she was considering voting for the bill because she did not trust the judgment of police officers.

“If I’m a police officer and I’m an abuser and I’m going to abuse …  a resident out there, I’m going to turn my camera off,” she said. “How can we prove that he didn’t turn the camera off because it was not convenient for that officer?”

“So you really want me to answer that question?” Esserman asked, prompting Gonzalez to rephrase the question.

“Well, let me answer by saying, respectfully, I hear you and of course there’s concern that at times there are those in our midst who do wrong,” Esserman said. “I would encourage you to trust officers more than I think you do because we take an oath, an oath as honorable as yours. … I think we can find a middle ground between reasonable standards and those that satisfy those that are very skeptical.”