South Portland Police Department policy on body cams in final review

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The Police Department on Wednesday night unveiled the body cameras that officers will soon be wearing on duty.

Chief Edward Googins said the cameras will improve accountability for officers and members of the public they come in contact with, and help to reduce court costs.

The body cameras “will help ensure that we all play by the rules,” he said.

“Something happened at the end of August 2014,” Googins said at the start of a public forum at police headquarters, referring to the deaths of black men at the hands of police officers, including Michael Brown Jr. on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri.

The final steps of the policy-approval process include a review by the American Civil Liberties Union and consideration of feedback from Wednesday’s meeting. Once the policy is approved, the cameras – which feature a GPS unit, a 130-degree fish-eye lens, and measure about 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches – could go into service within anywhere from the next few days to a few weeks.

“The default position is, the camera will be on all the time,” Lt. Frank Clark said.

The cameras will be activated manually on the device, automatically in a cruiser collision, when the emergency lights are turned on, or when a cruiser reaches 70 mph, according to the department policy written by Googins and posted online.

Requests for the footage will be handled by the department under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Legal prosecutors will have access to the video, as will defenders under discovery” (compulsory disclosure of documents relevant to a trial), Googins said. “We do want to share as much as we can.”

Wednesday’s meeting was attended by six officers and eight members of the public. When former City Councilor Rosemarie DeAngelis asked about the official implementation date, Lt. Thomas Simonds responded by asking for her opinion: “Rosemarie, I’ll throw it back to you. Are we ready?”

“I imagine the public will be supportive after the recent nationwide challenges,” DeAngelis responded. “There has been this criticism nationwide, but I don’t want officers to feel like they’re unprepared. I don’t want it to be rushed.”

Simonds stressed that Wednesday’s meeting was a “crucial step in the process,” and he saw it as an “important way to close the feedback loop” before moving forward with implementation.

He also posed the preparedness question to the other officers in the room.

“I’m excited,” Lt. Brian McCarthy said. “I’m ready for it. Increasingly, I’m walking up to someone filming me with an iPhone.”

Clark was also enthusiastic, citing a false allegation against an officer that was cleared with evidence from the dashboard cameras that the department has used since the early 1990s.

“If there was ever a time when I was a convert to the technology,” he said, “it was then.”

“From an infrastructure point of view, we’re very close,” Simonds added. “We could get started in a few days.”

Googins said the department welcomes further questions and concerns from the public.

“I often get asked, ‘How do the officers feel with a camera on them?’” he said. “I say, ‘Well, how would you feel with a camera filming while you did your job?’ A clear policy is so critical.”

South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins: “(Body cameras) will help ensure that we all play by the rules.”