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Some Nassau police officers to test body cameras, officials say

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

Nassau County police officers will begin wearing body cameras as they patrol the streets and answer service calls as part of a pilot program scheduled to begin Aug. 1.

In what county officials said is an effort to increase transparency, 31 officers from the First, Third and Fifth precincts will wear cameras during a yearlong period in the communities of Baldwin, Elmont, Great Neck, New Cassel, Roosevelt, Uniondale and Westbury, officials said.

County Executive Edward Mangano and acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krump-ter announced the implementation of the program during a media briefing Monday at police headquarters in Mineola, nearly a year after officials agreed to test body cameras as part of a bipartisan budget deal.

"This pilot program will test the latest technology available with the goals of increasing transparency, strengthening officer performance and improving evidence documentation," Mangano said.

On Long Island, body cameras are already used by some small departments, including Freeport, which has equipped its entire patrol force. Suffolk police said Monday in a statement that they have "no definite plans on using body cameras at this time" but will be monitoring "legal, logistical, procedural and financial issues" that other departments using the cameras encounter.

The NYPD has also begun equipping some of its officers with body cameras, and many other police forces across the country have either begun testing them or implemented the cameras departmentwide.

The use of police body cameras has emerged as police face increased scrutiny because fatal encounters with civilians in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Staten Island and other places have made national headlines.

But Krumpter said those controversies were not a factor in starting the local program, citing a recent county-commissioned poll showing more than 70 percent of Nassau residents approve of the job being done by the police department.

"It had nothing to do with Ferguson," Krumpter said. "This is a modern-day technology. Nassau County . . . has a degree of trust that few law enforcement agencies see . . . Now, that we are in a world in which anyone with a cellphone camera can record video footage, body cameras will give the police point of view. This technology will also ensure that officers are doing their job correctly and appropriately when interacting with the community."

The pilot program will cost an estimated $150,000 and will be paid using county operating funds, officials said. The county is still negotiating with vendors, including Taser International, and considering a partnership with Panasonic and Motorola.

Krumpter, who said a departmentwide deployment of a body camera system -- including maintenance -- could cost $9 million to $10 million, declined to name the third likely vendor. The county will test a total of 62 cameras -- three different models. Each model will be tested for three months, officials said.

Krumpter said the department is still working on its policies and procedures for officers' use of body cameras and declined to specify under which circumstances the cameras would be turned on and off. Krumpter said there "has to be a level of discretion," on the cameras' use, and cited investigations of child abuse and sexual assault as instances where the use of cameras may be inappropriate. He said officers will be provided four hours of training.

At the end of the trial period, he said, the department will decide if the further use of body cameras is "appropriate" and "practical." He did not elaborate on how police would evaluate the results.

Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said the department didn't consult the union about the pilot program, as required by case law, and said he's planning to file an injunction with the Public Employment Relations Board.

"We are not opposed to the idea of body cameras. What we are opposed to is having them rammed down our throats . . . These cameras cannot be implemented without being negotiated with the union," he said.

Deputy Insp. Gary Shapiro, the interim police department spokesman, disputed Carver's assertion, saying: "This is not a mandatory item of negotiation."

Shapiro also said Krumpter met with union officials twice and had "multiple phone conversations" to discuss body cameras.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who was joined at the news conference by his colleagues Legis. Carrie Solages (D-Elmont) and Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), said body cameras are a "step in the right direction." Despite the department's generally good standing in the community, Abrahams said, there are "many community members, dozens, who have called for more transparency."

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