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Nassau, police union told to delay body cams for 90 days

Freeport police officer Jason Zimmer demonstrates the use

Freeport police officer Jason Zimmer demonstrates the use of a body camera during a press conference at Freeport Police headquarters on March 26, 2015, where the Freeport Police Department announced the full deployment of body cameras for every police officer on patrol, and in-car cameras for every marked vehicle on the road. Photo Credit: NEWSDAY / Alejandra Villa

A state labor panel has put the brakes on Nassau County’s plan to begin equipping its police force with body cameras following complaints from two police department unions.

The 90-day moratorium on introducing body cameras in the department came in a Nov. 9 letter to lawyers for Nassau, the Police Benevolent Association and the Superior Officers Association from the Brooklyn-based state Employment Relations Labor Board. The letter from Kim Moore-Ward, the board’s chief regional mediator and director, also required the parties to schedule by early January a meeting to discuss the issue.

The Nassau PBA and SOA, which represents sergeants, lieutenants and captains among others, each filed complaints with the panel in September, claiming the department violated state law by failing to include the unions in discussions regarding the cameras’ implementation, officials said.

The complaints followed the department’s May announcement that it would conduct a yearlong body camera pilot program with 31 officers from the First, Third and Fifth precincts — a plan that has been beset by delay as police officials worked to create guidelines on the cameras’ use.

“Whenever our members could be the subject of any type of discipline, whether it’s warranted or not, the union should have a say in how the body cameras are implemented,” James Carver, the Nassau PBA president, said Monday. “They’re asking us to participate in something, we should have the right to be part of that process.”

Brian Hoesl, president of the SOA, said Monday: “We believe that the county is required to negotiate the implementation with us and they refused to do so. . . . There are a lot of unanswered questions on many protocols involving their use and we are opposed to the start of any pilot program before these questions are answered.”

Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said in a statement Monday night the department is “engaged in communication” with the unions.

“The NCPD has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with three vendors that will permit [the] department to conduct a year long Body Camera Pilot Program,” the statement said. “Once the matter is resolved, a formal department MOA will be presented to the Nassau County Legislature for consideration.”

Krumpter, through a spokesman, had previously disputed the union claims that body cameras are a mandatory negotiation item and added that department officials had spoken about the equipment with union officials several times.

Krumpter has said body cameras have the potential to increase transparency, but the department would first evaluate the pilot program before deciding whether to put them on officers across the 2,413-member force, which would cost an estimated $10 million.

The complaints are believed to be the first time in the state that the implementation of body cameras have been formally challenged by unions, Carver said. The village of Freeport’s entire patrol force has body cameras; Suffolk police are exploring the use and the NYPD has begun testing the technology under a federal court order.

The use of body cameras has gained popularity across the country as deadly encounters between civilians and officers have increased calls for transparency around police work. But the cameras, usually perched on an officers’ shoulder or chest, have also proven controversial because of questions raised about privacy and training.

Kevan Abrahams, Democratic minority leader of the county Legislature, said in statement Monday his caucus sees body cameras as a “tool for transparency.”

Abrahams (D-Freeport) added: “We still unequivocally support body cameras being used in the day-to-day operations of the police department and are hopeful that they soon can go into implementation.”

Carver, the union head, said he’s not necessarily against body cameras, but wants to discuss issues such as victim privacy.

“I’ve stated this before . . . we are not opposed to this, but we have a right to have a seat at the table.”

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