ITHACA, N.Y. – Community members who spoke publicly about Ithaca police officers wearing body cameras were in favor of the devices — though they had questions about the protocol for using them.
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Chief John Barber and city attorney Aaron Lavine presented a protocol Wednesday afternoon for the use of body cameras at the Ithaca Police Department. The protocol will likely go into effect by the end of the summer.
“It’s a step in the right direction to build trust,” Barber said.
Lavine said the cameras are intended to increase transparency and accountability within the department and gather evidence about crimes.
Barber said after the meeting that the videos could end up being used for training purposes.
“We’d be remiss if we didn’t look at all of our tools we have available,” he said.
The following story was broken up into three sections: Click the part you’re interested in to read more.
(Did we miss your question about the IPD body cameras policy? If so, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to get an answer and add it here.)
1 – Should cameras record minor interactions?
Laura Burch attended the meeting and said she supports police body cameras but questions why police officers will have the discretion to turn cameras off throughout their shift.
The protocol states that officers are required to turn cameras on when responding to a call but not when having casual interactions with the public, such as giving someone directions.
“A lot of the unhappiness (with police) has a lot to do with even those minor interaction that they have,” Burch said.
Lavine said after the meeting that when the city asked for requests for proposals from body camera companies, none provided a camera with enough resolution and storage space to record an entire police officer’s shift.
2 – Should defense attorneys get access to police videos involving death?
Cris McConkey also attended the meeting and said his concerns involve the redaction of videos and accessibility to the content.
McConkey pointed out that the protocol says video involving the death or serious bodily harm of a person would only be accessible by the police chief, mayor and whoever they deem should have access to it.
“What about the defense attorney? I think that’s a glaring omission in the document,” McConkey said.
Lavine referred all questions about accessibility of the videos to the district attorney because he said those lawyers would handle the case if an incident like that happened.
During the meeting, Lavine said the videos will be subject to the same redaction techniques as other public documents available under the Freedom of Information Law, which can be redacted to preserve one’s privacy or withheld because of an ongoing investigation.
3 – Storage fees, next steps for IPD cameras
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Helen Helfer said she hopes the public will have the opportunity to analyze, question and make suggestions to the protocol.
“We’re not antipolice. We’re antipolice who do not do their job in a fair and just way,” she said after the meeting.
Lavine said anyone who has questions about the protocol or wants to make recommendations can best do so by contacting their common councilor.
The protocol will be presented to and discussed by the Common Council at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Common Council Chambers at City Hall.
Chief Barber said he expects the full support of councilors.
The city will likely purchase 70 TASER AXON body cameras by the end of the summer.
The purchase and storage fees will be $75,000 to $90,000 the first year and $20,000 to $35,000 per subsequent year. A $20,000 grant from an anonymous donor will help cut down costs the first year, Lavine said.