The city’s police department may release a draft body-worn camera policy within the next two months, Chief Brian Owens told the city council’s public safety committee Thursday night.
The department has a “working group” dedicated to crafting the policy, Owens said. “We’re fortunate to maybe learn from” mistakes of other departments in New York and elsewhere that have already adopted BWCs. The “most important” concern is public privacy, he said.
The department has met with one potential vendor, Axon, which didn’t provide an overall cost projection. Storage, licensing, and maintenance—rather than the equipment itself—“are where the real costs are,” the chief said. The department would need to hire a second full-time video clerk to handle archiving footage for long-term storage and to field responses to record requests.
Troy Police Benevolent Association president Nick Laviano, who also attended the meeting, estimated storage costs could be $300,000 “at a minimum,” though it was unclear if that projection included the potential new clerk’s salary. Laviano reiterated that the union is not against BWCs.
If the city ultimately decides to move forward with BWCs, it will likely seek external funds to pay for them. Deputy mayor Monica Kurzejeski said federal grants require localities, before applying, to have a policy in place and a dedicated funding source. “Once we take those steps,” the city could pursue grants, she said.
Councilman Mark McGrath expressed frustration that BWCs had not yet been adopted, pointing out that the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which accredits police departments (including Troy’s), propagates a model policy. Though he acknowledged the potential cost, McGrath predicted the city would save money “in the long run” because the cameras’ presence would mitigate complaints and liability.
Owens, who Mayor Patrick Madden appointed in February following the retirement of John Tedesco, also discussed the need for the department, collectively, to embrace community policing as a “philosophy” and gave an overview of the 12-member community services bureau, which houses a community policing unit, traffic safety unit, and plainclothes “neighborhood conditions team.”
Owens has disbanded the department’s Firearms Interdiction and Narcotics Suppression unit after two former members were indicted earlier this year in connection with an alleged cover-up of an unlawful search.
“I’ve seen a change in morale” within the department since Owens assumed his post, council president Carmella Mantello said. It “seems like you’re trying to instill a mentality and culture of proactiveness.”
Owens said he’s implemented a “park, walk, and talk” initiative within the patrol bureau, though he acknowledged call volume may curb the amount of time officers spend out of their vehicles. The majority of patrol members have “maybe less than five years experience,” the chief said, and getting them comfortable interacting with people is a priority.
As the Times Union reported in April, Owens wants to increase the overall size of the 130-member force, having observed that nearly two dozen officers may be in training or on some type of leave at any given time.
The public safety committee meeting was the first of the year—and the first since the state attorney general’s office, in a report released in January, sharply criticized the police department’s probe of the death of Edson Thevenin, an African-American man shot and killed in his vehicle by an officer near the Collar City Bridge in 2016, as “deficient and incomplete.”
The AG’s report—which went unmentioned during Thursday’s committee meeting—said the police department should “overhaul its investigative approach to officer-involved shootings,” change its policy regarding shooting at vehicles, and equip cops and their vehicles with video cameras. Public safety committee chair David Bissember, council president Carmella Mantello, and councilperson Anasha Cummings met with the AG’s office in March to discuss the report.
After the meeting, Chief Owens told The Alt that the decision to explore BWCs was not influenced solely by the AG’s report. He was noncommittal regarding the other two recommendations.
City resident Matthew Sekellick, a past contributor to The Alt, spoke against the adoption of BWCs during the public comment portion of the meeting, arguing that the devices don’t impact police behavior—a claim supported by a recent study in Washington, D.C.—and function primarily as surveillance tools.