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Body cameras coming to all officers in Freeport Police Department, officials say

Freeport police officer Jason Zimmer demonstrates the use

Freeport police officer Jason Zimmer 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, on Thursday March 26, 2015, at Freeport police headquarters. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The Freeport Police Department is outfitting its entire patrol force with body and dashboard cameras -- believed to be the first law enforcement agency in the state to require the cameras' use, officials said Thursday.

Freeport Police Chief Miguel Bermudez said the cameras provide an accurate account of interactions between officers and the public. Of the department's 92 sworn officers -- set to bump up to 95 in the next few weeks -- about 60 officers in patrol and the traffic unit will be required to wear body cameras.

"We've had great success in defusing situations," said Bermudez, whose department has been using the cameras on a trial basis for about a year. "It gives us a chance to speak to crime victims and record what they just went through in the moment it happened. . . . It works wonderfully for this department and our officers embraced it."

The move to outfit Freeport's entire department coincides with a national debate on law enforcement's use of body cameras as a way to hold police officers accountable for their conduct in light of several controversial police killings of unarmed black men, including Eric Garner in Staten Island.

Nassau acting District Attorney Madeline Singas announced the $108,000 in funding for the cameras from her office's asset forfeiture account at a news conference with Bermudez at Freeport police headquarters. She said the cameras have helped prosecutors win cases. "Whether it's a traffic stop in the middle of the day or a domestic violence call in the middle of the night, we can see how tough a job our officers have and we can see the events unfolding from their perspective, literally," Singas said. "As prosecutors, this footage is invaluable as a tool for evidence."

The Nassau County Police Department, which said in August it would begin a pilot program to test dashboard and body cameras, has yet to use body cameras.

Nassau police spokesman Insp. Kenneth Lack said Thursday: "We are finalizing the details for the pilot program."

In Suffolk County, police have used dashboard cameras for DWI enforcement for about a decade, but have no plans to expand the cameras to the entire department or to try body cameras, officials said.

Freeport's 16 patrol cars and three undercover cars will be outfitted with dash cameras. The funds pay for maintenance and storage for three years, officials said. At Thursday's news briefing, officials showed footage of an arrest in May 2014 of a man who was accused of chasing his mother with a hammer. The body camera worn by the arresting officer, Singas said, led "to my office's successful prosecution for assault."

The man pleaded guilty last December to charges, including second-degree assault, and was sentenced to two years in jail, officials said.

Bermudez said officers are required to turn on their body cameras when going on a 911 call or making a traffic stop. He said the footage accumulated by his officers has never shown misconduct.

Freeport Officer Jason Zimmer, a 19-year-veteran, said the cameras often engender compliance from people who might otherwise have an aggressive stance toward an officer pulling them over for a traffic infraction or other issues.

With his body camera perched on his shoulder, he said: "I feel naked without it."

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