Many times when officers interact with the public, what happens can end up in dispute -- a he said, he said situation that many times ends up being decided in court.
But now Hamden officers will soon be equipped with wearable cameras that will capture interactions between them and those they encounter throughout the course of their shifts. On Monday, the Legislative Council approved a bid waiver in favor of Taser International to spend $34,999.44 for the purchae of 36 Taser Axon Wearable Body Cameras and associated equipment.
Only Republican Councilman Austin Cesare voted against the expenditure, voicing concerns about privacy.
"We were looking in the direction of field equipment positioned in vehicles in a fixed way, but quite honestly that's kind of antiquated compared to the solution we have for you tonight," Police Chief Thomas Wydra told the Legislative Council Monday night. "It's a portable, wearable solution and we can buy many more units for the same cost."
Most departments have cameras fixed in police cruisers that record the action taking place in front of the car. That technology is limited only to what happens directly in front of the vehicle, while this new technology follows the officer around and captures activity that happens around him or her.
"The product that we are asking you to waive the bid process for we have found through research and through demonstration and wearing in real world situations is superior to other products," Wydra said, "especially when comparing the cost of the video storage capabilities, which is a huge issue actually and that can be cost prohibitive if you don't select the right solution.
"What you have before you is the ability to purchase 36," he said, where for the fixed cameras, that money would buy only a half dozen or so.
"That's huge," said Councilman Jack Kenelly, himself a former Hamden Police Chief.
Hamden Police Information Technology Manager Mario DiNatale spent time researching different options regarding cameras and found this model to be the best, Wydra said.
"We researched all various recording devices on the market and tested how they would be used by officers, and through that research this product came far away above all the others," DiNatale said. "They like to call it 'cop proof' because it's very simple, there's really no intervention required from them aside from activating and deactivating it at right times."
Once the officers finish their shift, they plug it in and download the information into the system -- there's no software they need to learn, DiNatale said. And the system -- called evidence.com -- is cheap and affordable and categorizes all the data
"Probably the most beautiful thing we found doing research was a study done in the UK where departments there utilizing them had a 100 percent decline in false claims against officers," DiNatale said, "so it seems like the use of the technology changed the behavior of both the officers and the public, with both becoming more professional when seen on camera.
"If these units prevent one lawsuit, they have paid for themselves basically," he said.
But Republican Councilman Austin Cesare said he has concerns about invading the privacy of private citizens.
"I'm skeptical about the use of this money -- I think there are better ways to spend it in terms of funding.
"Where are the zones of privacy for individuals?" he asked. "Where is the privacy line drawn when an officer zooms in mail box with mail in it? Will safeguards be put in place for the average citizen? I'm very leery to the extent of this and feel like it's pushing the envelope."
"It is in the interest of public safety and the greater protection for the public and the police," DiNatale said. About 70 percent of police forces in Europe use the technology, he said, while here only about 20 percent of police do, though the numbers are growing.
But having fixed cameras in police cruisers had been common here for years, Wydra said, though Hamden hasn't had them for a number of years now.
But Cesare said he still feels that officers wearing cameras is a serious invasion of privacy for law-abiding citizens.
"What are my guarantees and safeguards to privacy? What's the safeguard to make sure not violate privacy and people's civil rights? Where's the right to privacy?" he said
"It's a very serious issue -- having cameras mounted on people. "It seems like we are living more and more in a police state and I have some issues with it."
Councilwoman Berita Rowe-Lewis disagreed.
"I want to thank you for doing this," she told Wydra. "It protects us the Legislative Council, it also protects the police officers and protects the public because everything will be in plain view.
"I think the police officers of this town have huge integrity and will not be looking under anyone dress or over any one's counter or under anyone's bed," she said.