The Division of Criminal Justice is looking for 31 additional employees to go through thousands of hours of body camera footage and 15 special prosecutors for two years funded by the state’s federal COVID-19 relief money to help get rid of some of the backlog in cases due to the pandemic.
But Appropriations Committee members are saying it’s likely that the division, which encompasses all state prosecutors and their investigation teams, won’t get all of what they are looking for in the next two years.
Deputy Chief State’s Attorney John Russotto told members of the Appropriations Committee last week that his agency must find a way to review body camera footage from every police department in accordance with the 2020 Police Accountability law.
The division is looking for money to hire one information technology person to manage the videos and 30 prosecutors, two for the 13 judicial districts and an additional two for the two largest districts, to deal with the videos, Russotto said. While Gov. Ned Lamont funded a little more than $2 million for the agency to get a digital evidence management system, Russotto said, he did not fund the 31 requested positions.
“The one area where we made a request to the Governor’s Office through OPM (the state Office of Policy and Management) the Governor did not support had to do with the personnel we feel we need to be able to manage all of this video evidence,” Russotto said.
He then gave the example of the New Britain Police Department which compiled more than 13,500 hours of body camera video in 2021. Russottto called the department representative of many departments in the state.
He then clarified his remarks when Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, a member of the Appropriations Committee and the primary author of the Police Accountability law as co-chair of the Judiciary Committee challenged him on whether New Britain was actually representative of much of the state.
“There are 120 plus municipalities with less than 30,000 people,” Winfield said. “I was wondering how they could possibly be representative of anything in the state.”
“Some smaller pds (police departments) would have less hours obviously, the bigger ones, Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport will probably a lot more simply because they have a lot more officers in the field so they have more cameras,” Russotto said. The average video length for New Britain officers to deal with an incident was 18 minutes, which probably is a fair representation of how long it takes other departments, Russotto said.
Based on New Britain’s numbers, the division estimated that it requires 150 hours per week to go through the body camera footage to build cases, provide information for plea bargains and provide defense attorneys with video to defend their clients.
But Winfield said he’s going to need more detailed figures from more departments to figure out the actual need for funding.
“In order for me to put that in the budget, I need a real explanation beyond what they say New Britain is doing,” Winfield said Monday. “I need real information on why they say the cost is what they say it is.”
Winfield also questioned the need for prosecutors to review every hour of video generated by police calls. “I want clarity,” Winfield said. “Why are they asking for money to review every minute of footage when they aren’t doing that now?”
Appropriations Committee Co-Chair Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said there is no question that more people will be needed to review the video. But, she estimated that it would cost $6 million for 30 more personnel with fringe benefits, and said she doubted the entire request could be funded.
“I do think there is some support for some of this,” Osten said. “But I don’t think there is support for $6 million. There is going to be an expense to this and we will have to give them some resources to handle it.”
The division is also looking for $2.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to hire 15 special prosecutors for two years to help elevate the backlog of cases that developed during the pandemic.
The agency currently has per diem prosecutors who are being paid with a different pool of federal COVID-19 relief funds, Russotto said. But that money is running out, he told the committee.
He gave the example of the Hartford Courthouse which as of Feb. 9 had almost 2,000 more daily active pending cases compared to before the pandemic when the daily active pending cases were at about 4,600, Russotto said.
“That’s fairly representative of what we’re seeing in all of our courts,” he said.
The Appropriations Committee will have to look at that as well, Osten said. But the committee still has to review and determine what will get funded, she said. “That’s (the additional prosecutors) definitely dependent on everything else.”