ORLEANS – As more police departments are exploring the use of body cameras, the town's chief of police last week argued that it might be better for his department to wait a year.
Citing the estimated $179,000 cost over five years for body and cruiser cameras and the accompanying software, Police Chief Scott MacDonald recommended to the select board Nov. 2 that the town take more time to do research into the cameras before making any decisions as to whether or not to buy or lease them.
"It's a big number," MacDonald said. "It's not a hard number. This is subject to change."
There has been a push nationally toward outfitting police with cameras in recent years following several highly publicized incidents that have shone a spotlight on police misconduct. Most notably, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020 has led to an increased call for greater police accountability.
McDonald said he was asked recently by a member of the finance committee if he thought there would be such a push toward the use of body cameras if it hadn't been for the controversy and outrage surrounding Floyd's death two and a half years ago.
"I hadn't thought about it, but then I did think about it," he said. "And my answer was 'Probably not.'"
While MacDonald said he saw body cameras as "a great tool" for ensuring accountability among the town's police officers, that need to be weighed against "other properties" in the department. By waiting a year, he said the town could use the time to get a better sense of how much a demand for the cameras there is among residents.
"Is this what our community wants?" he said.
If there's interest in the department funding the cameras, MacDonald said he's received no "pushback" from members of his department regarding using them.
Brewster police currently outfit their cruisers with cameras, while MacDonald said police on Nantucket will be putting cameras to use shortly. Meanwhile, he said police in Harwich, Falmouth, Dennis, Bourne, Yarmouth, Mashpee, Barnstable and Eastham are exploring using cameras, just as Orleans is.
With so many other departments similarly looking into using cameras, MacDonald said the town could learn from those other departments by stepping back and letting them work out the potential wrinkles.
"I don't see anything wrong with maybe waiting another year to see how everything plays out," he said. "Let other towns work out the kinks, spend the money."
While there are options to buy or lease the equipment, MacDonald said a leasing option is preferable because it allows equipment and software upgrades. There are grants available that cover the purchase of cameras, but MacDonald said those wouldn't cover the upgrades or data retention.
"If he thinks it makes sense, I think it makes sense to wait a year or so to see what's successful and stay away from the stuff that isn't," Select Board member Mark Mathison said.
The first step toward exploring whether or not to pursue the use of the cameras should be to engage the community in a public hearing, said Michael Herman of the select board.
"Whether that's now or in six months or eight months, we definitely should start with that process," he said.
A statewide task force recently released a report outlining its recommendations and guidelines for the use of body cameras by police. Mathison asked if with those recommendations there might also be more vendors through which the town might purchase or lease the equipment.
"Anytime you see grant money become available, the vendors come out of the woodwork," MacDonald said.
"We like to really focus on the vendors who have been there, done that."
One such vendor is Motorola, whose WatchGuard video system MacDonald said is already being used by state police.
"A great opportunity for us to watch them test the product," he said.
One potential drawback of implementing the cameras could be the additional administrative work it could make for members of the department, particularly in the form of increased public records requests.
"It will suck staff's time to no end," he said. "So let's be mindful not just of the contract for the service, but what it does to your staff."
"I could easily wait a year on this," Select Board member Mefford Runyon said.
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