After almost a year of civil unrest across the country following lethal encounters between civilians and police, Suffolk County has yet to adopt body cameras for its officers.
Tho demonstrations have led some police departments nationwide -- including New York City, and this week Nassau County -- to issue or consider body cameras. For the benefit of officers and the community they serve, Suffolk County needs to immediately pursue the possibility of outfitting its officers with the technology.
Despite being one of the largest in the country, the Suffolk County Police Department is the only one of 20 large departments that is not considering police cameras, according to a survey last month by the Reuters news agency.
Just last week, the Department of Justice rolled out a pilot program that seeks to expand the number of police departments nationally that use body cameras. Federal officials said the government would grant nearly $20 million to help implement the technology.
Suffolk's time to act is now.
There have been significant policing improvements in Suffolk County in the past few years. Some of them came as a result of the Justice Department investigation in 2008 killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero. The hate crime in Patchogue led to Suffolk police agreeing to new rules to ensure nondiscriminatory policing.
Body cameras on officers would only enhance policing in the county. When properly utilized, for instance, the cameras can help reduce the risk of fraudulent allegations of police misconduct because the accusations could be independently confirmed or dispelled with the technology. Also, there is ample evidence, much of it provided by police departments and agencies sympathetic to them, that body cameras deter crime and encourage police restraint.
Unfortunately, the department, which has used dashboard cameras for DWI enforcement for nearly a decade, does not plan to expand the use of those cameras or to try body cameras. The department told Reuters it would track the experiences of departments that have adopted the technology before deciding how to proceed.
We can't afford the county's wait-and-see approach. Wait until what? Until we see a tragedy occur in our county, as they have in so many others?
Suffolk County residents need a clearly stated position from County Executive Steve Bellone and the bevy of other elected and appointed officials on the use of body cameras in their communities.
There are privacy concerns that need to be considered, and there are obviously financial costs of providing body cameras, storing and monitoring the collected data. For instance, by some estimates, the body cameras can cost $350 to $700 apiece.
Adopting the technology would protect both the Suffolk County Police Department and the community it is dedicated to serve.