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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Police body cameras provide officers' point of view

Freeport police officer Richard Paulik demonstrates the use

Freeport police officer Richard Paulik demonstrates the use of the body cameras during a press conference to announce the full deployment of a body and in-car camera program to include every police officer on patrol, and every marked vehicle on the road today Thursday March 26, 2015 at the Freeport Police headquarters. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The idea for a police body camera program in the Village of Freeport came from the Nassau district attorney's office.

The county, much to the consternation of a police union chief, announced Monday that it would launch its own pilot project. The Freeport body cameras were funded by the district attorney's asset forfeiture money.

"We jumped at the chance," Mayor Robert T. Kennedy said. Now, every officer working the field in the 95-member department wears a body camera.

And one month into implementation of the program, Kennedy said, "We've found that being able to see things from a police officer's point of view is invaluable."

Kennedy said the cameras are helping residents in one of the most diverse communities on Long Island by providing transparency, and helping the village by deterring unfounded complaints against officers, whose public interactions are recorded.

And, he said, cameras likely are helping keep officers safe. "We had an incident where an officer had a car full of people," he said. "When he told them he had a camera, we saw that things calm down immediately."

After a fight in the village, Kennedy said, he asked police to brief him. They showed him a body cam video. "I could see everything, from where the officer gets to the scene, to where the handcuffs went on," Kennedy said.

The camera footage also can be used in training officers, "using what we learn from real interactions," he said.

With all of this happening in Freeport, why is it that this week's announcement of a pilot body camera program in three Nassau police precincts is kicking up opposition?

At the news conference announcing the program, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, stood with Democratic lawmakers.

But, aside from Mangano, there were no Republicans. Could it be that Republican lawmakers -- who, like Democrats, are up for re-election this year -- are worried about losing police union support?

That's not it, one Republican said Wednesday. He said the GOP, which has a legislative majority, wanted more police union input before the program was implemented.

James Carver, head of Nassau's Police Benevolent Association, said the county's pilot program should have been negotiated with the PBA, although police brass disagree.

Nassau's one-year pilot program will be limited to 31 officers working Baldwin, Elmont, Great Neck, New Cassel, Roosevelt, Uniondale and Westbury.

A Mangano spokesman said the communities were selected by Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), the legislature's minority leader. Abrahams said, no, the communities -- most of which vote Democrat -- were picked by the administration.

"We would have liked to see the pilot run in every precinct," Abrahams said.

As it is, Nassau's a few weeks away from ending a pilot dashboard camera program. Officials said Wednesday that the department intends to combine into one report results of both camera programs before deciding what comes next.

Body cameras for Nassau police make sense. And given Freeport's experience, a well-designed program could provide significant benefits to police and citizens.

"We wanted to get ahead of the curve," Kennedy said. "These days, when everyone seems to be recording police, it's helpful to have the officers' point of view."

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