Maine State Police are looking for body cameras for all soldiers
Maine State Police are pursuing a plan to equip every soldier with body-worn cameras, and the agency is currently investigating how to create a robust and affordable recording system for nearly 300 soldiers that could be the subject a call for tenders from next year.
Col. John P. Côté said he has asked staff to devote at least the next six months to developing a detailed plan outlining the agency’s needs and the challenges it will face in equipping each soldier. a chest-mounted recording device. He said it’s a matter of when, not if, the agency adopts the technology.
“We know that body-worn cameras have certainly gained in deployment over the past few years,” Cote said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “They’ve become almost an expectation, so we don’t want to be one of the last to come to the table. I think by the end of this year, by the end of 2021, we’d like to have at least one design cornerstone in place to say, “Hey, here’s what a solution for the police will look like in the State of Maine. ” “
This is not the first time that state police have considered acquiring the technology, which Cote says is a useful tool in maintaining accountability and providing unbiased records of police interactions for the 291 sworn-in soldiers. But cost estimates for years past have been too high, at around $ 3.5 million to $ 4 million. He hopes advancements in technology have put camera systems within easy reach.
If all goes well, Cote hopes to have an RFP completed in 2022, which will kick off the public tendering process for the technology. But many variables could influence that timeline, including state budget constraints and other agency needs, he said. Ultimately, the legislature and governor will also have a say in how and when to spend public money on the system.
“We’ll definitely be looking at different vendors and their solutions, but it always comes down to a pretty big tax note,” he said. “It’s something we welcome, but we want to do it right, and we want to make sure that when we get closer to the legislature, we have solid facts, solid numbers and a long term solution.”
THERE IS NO MANDATE
Neither the Department of Public Safety nor the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which has authority over statewide policing standards, maintains a definitive list of agencies that have adopted the devices, and there is no mandate that agencies use or pursue them. Some agencies, including the Waterville Police Department, still do not use dashboard or cruiser-mounted camera systems, which have become a standard tool across the country for thousands of police departments. Waterville is now pursuing his own body-worn camera system, and this would be the first time since a dashcam pilot in the 1990s that his police officers’ interactions were recorded.
Other major police departments in Maine, including South Portland and Portland, have already adopted the devices, and other agencies are following suit. But with 291 sworn-in officers, the Maine State Police is by far the largest police agency in the state and covers the largest geographic area.
While there was no cost estimate yet for the Maine state police system, other agencies that adopted the system had to bear the costs, sometimes with the help of grants.
Portland Police, the second-largest agency in the state with about 152 sworn officers, funded its first pilot body camera program with grants. Portland rolled out agency-wide body cameras in 2019, purchasing about 120 of the units for its patrol officers at a cost of $ 350,000. The city continues to incur additional annual costs to continue to run the program and manage the huge amounts of data generated every hour of every day, which in turn must be stored, recorded and retained, said David Singer, spokesperson. of the department.
For Maine State Police, patrolling the state’s vast sparsely populated counties presents a unique challenge. In municipal or local agencies, officers typically begin their shifts at police headquarters, where cameras are stored, loaded, and docked to upload footage.
LOGISTICS AND GEOGRAPHY POSE CHALLENGES
But soldiers bring their cruisers home each night and often begin their shifts without first showing up in person at a troop barracks. This means that in current practice the images from the cameras on the dashboard of cruisers have to be sorted and uploaded by the soldiers. Body-worn camera footage is unlikely to be any different, which means new responsibilities and potentially greater reliance on each soldier’s internet access to their private homes.
“It’s a very different work environment for officers in rural areas,” Côté said. “We have officers who don’t actually visit their barracks for several weeks at a time. So if they live in a remote area like Caratunk, how do we transfer terabytes of data over days and weeks to a central server? “
To help unravel these issues, Côté plans to work with his counterparts in Vermont and Massachusetts, whose state police forces recently adopted body cameras. Some of the same logistical hurdles Cote expects to encounter in Maine have likely already been resolved in those states.
Massachusetts State Police piloted a program in 2019 and began agency-wide implementation this spring. Vermont began the body camera research phase in 2015 and only rolled out the program last year.
In Maine, aside from the hardware and software costs, the Department of Public Safety will likely need to hire new staff to handle the massive amount of video data, organize it, and help respond to increasing demands for public information. that agencies typically see when they start collecting new data from interactions with police. Police dashboard images are regularly requested by attorneys in civil and criminal cases involving the police, and Cote said the agency will have to take that extra time and staff work into account.
Maine’s logistics and geography also raise questions about who will pay for Internet service to download and send videos when work is not being done in a government office or police station. Cut out and define the responsibility that each soldier will have to send or compile these images and by what timeframe will certainly become a matter of collective bargaining, Cote said.
The Maine State Trooper’s Association contract has been extended for six months until Dec.31, 2021, Cote said, but it is not yet clear whether the body camera issue will be included in the next round of contract negotiations. The topic could also be brought up later, for a special negotiating session when the state is about to move forward, he said. The president of MSTA, Staff Sgt. Thomas Pappas did not respond to a request for an interview on Wednesday.
POLICY CONTRIBUTION TO SEEK
Later, Cote plans to convene a task force to develop a camera policy that will govern when soldiers should and should not record events. It’s too early to say what this policy might look like, but he expects to involve a diverse group to provide commentary on what is appropriate.
This policy-making process could have a public input component, as well as outside advice from advocacy groups.
So far, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has not been contacted about the Maine State Police body camera policy, but the civil rights group has been outspoken about policy objectives in the past.
Meagan Sway, policy director for the ACLU of Maine, said that as tools of accountability and transparency, body-worn cameras are only as good as the policies that back them.
“These policies must be clear and must be applied consistently and strictly,” Sway said in a statement. “They need to limit officers’ discretion over when to film and ensure government transparency, especially when there are charges of excessive force or death.
“While body cameras can address liability, they will not solve the deeper societal problems that we have left the police for too long, such as poverty and drug use. To meaningfully address these ongoing crises in our state, we need to cede resources from the police, who are not trained mental health experts, and reinvest in mental health, housing and other enveloping supports. that give every person in Maine the opportunity to thrive on their own terms. . “