Starting early next year, Newark Police Department officers will be equipped with body cameras, joining a growing number of law enforcement agencies who use the cameras to demonstrate greater accountability.
City council on Monday approved spending more than a half million dollars on the cameras and an associated data storage plan, along with new dash cameras for police cruisers and updated cameras for interview rooms in the police station.
Police officials said the cameras will strengthen police accountability, prevent confrontational situations by improving officer professionalism as well as the behavior of the people being recorded, help supervisors investigate complaints filed against officers, allow the video to be used for training purposes and provide additional evidence for prosecutions.
“Body cameras give a good depiction of what officers encounter, for criminal prosecution purposes,” NPD spokesman Lt. Andrew Rubin said. “It also benefits us in holding officers accountable for their actions.
Body cameras – which clip onto an officer’s uniform and record his or her interactions with the public – have been adopted by many police departments over the past few years.
In 2015, as police-involved shootings were a subject of national debate, then-Attorney General Matt Denn called for every officer in the state to eventually be equipped with a camera. Some departments, like New Castle County Police and University of Delaware Police, are using cameras, but other departments have been slower to adopt the technology, which is expensive and requires policies for how to store and review the footage.
At the time, Newark Police Chief Paul Tiernan said NPD would take a wait-and-see approach and allow other agencies and the Delaware Police Chiefs Council to develop best practices.
NPD first experimented with body cameras in 2014 using its civilian parking enforcement officers, rather than sworn police officers. The one-year trial was instituted because “there were some complaints about parking enforcement officer demeanor,” a police spokesman said at the time.
After that, though, parking officers were transferred out of the police department and stopped wearing the cameras as city officials rebranded the officers as “parking ambassadors” and tried to give them a softer, friendlier image.
Last year, NPD quietly piloted body cameras again, with a handful of officers testing out models from different manufacturers.
Ultimately, the department settled on cameras made by Axon, an Arizona-based company best known for manufacturing Tasers.
Newark will pay Axon approximately $630,000 over five years for the technology package. Just under 25 percent of the cost is funded by state and federal grants, with taxpayers picking up the rest of the tab.
The package includes 60 body cameras, 25 dash cameras, recording equipment for four interview rooms and various accessories.
As is usually the case with body cameras, the cost of the data storage far exceeds the cost of the equipment. The city will pay $500 per camera, while each officer’s subscription to the internet-based storage system, Evidence.com, will cost just over $1,000 per year.
Rubin said the department will begin rolling out the cameras in early 2020 after a training period. NPD is still developing a policy that will govern when the cameras must be turned on and other guidelines for their use.