A bill to study the use of police body cameras was forwarded to the Senate Thursday after a favorable vote in the Public Safety and Security Committee.
The measure would direct the Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection to “conduct a pilot program regarding the use of body-worn video recording equipment by police officers” in small, medium and large-sized communities throughout Connecticut.
“We need to collect real, hard data on what these things can or cannot do,” according to Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford.
Though the bill only creates a pilot program for the study of police-worn video cameras, several members of the committee expressed concern that the images captured by those cameras might be obtainable through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, brought up the example of a naked body. “That kind of an image that some would view as an invasion of personal privacy would be available through a Freedom of Information request,” he said.
State Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-Bethany, recalled a time when a friend of hers gave birth in her driveway, and the police arrived to assist.
“If that was me I would want the camera off,” she said.
Other concerns raised by committee members included when and why a camera could be turned off and potential liability issues for police officers.
Connecticut is not wholly new to police-worn body cameras. There are eight municipalities in which the cameras are currently in use, and according to David McGuire, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, “appropriate standards” are well established.
“In Connecticut, we have enough experience with this technology to know that with appropriate standards and safeguards in place, body cameras serve as a powerful oversight mechanism for police,” he said during public hearing testimony earlier this month. “The ACLU-CT appreciates the caution and concern for privacy and safety that likely motivated this bill’s one-year pilot period. However, there is enough evidence confirming the effectiveness of body cameras and enough information about how to protect privacy and safety in their deployment.”
Sgt. Richard Holton, president of Hartford’s police union, told committee members during public hearings that body cameras can work both for and against the public, though he did speak in favor of the legislation.
“People need to be aware that a body camera mandate cuts both ways — they not only monitor law enforcement officers, but the public as well,” he said. “We deal with the public at its worst and at its best, from tragedies to triumphs, and interact with both society’s nicest and cruelest. With the implementation of body cameras, their behavior will be put on display.”
Senate President Martin Looney testified in February that East Haven has been using body cameras since 2014. Milford, Westport, Branford, and Hamden police departments also use body cameras.
The three communities in which the pilot will take place have not yet been decided.