Body cameras sought for state police

The Associated PressIn this April 27, 2017 file photo, a police officer wears a newly-issued body camera in New York. Some lawmakers are proposing to equip state troopers with body cameras in New York, one of few states where the primary law enforcement agency doesn't have body or dashboard cameras already. The New York state police force is the largest among them. 

 ALBANY, N.Y. — Some lawmakers are proposing to equip state troopers with body cameras in New York, one of few states where the primary law enforcement agency doesn’t have body or dashboard cameras already.

A nationwide Associated Press survey found that New York State Police are the largest primary state law enforcement agency not equipped with cameras. Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts also don’t have them.

Hawaii’s agency does not have the camera technology, but it also does not have a state-level highway patrol, so it has far fewer interactions with citizens.

The New York bill, introduced this fall and backed by state Sen. Kevin Parker and state Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, also outlines when state troopers should record their on-duty interactions.

Patrol cameras are regularly praised by law enforcement experts as ways to increase transparency and hold officers and citizens accountable.

“Everybody acts differently when (someone) is watching,” Parker said.

With about 5,100 sworn members and no body or dashboard cameras, New York state police remain an outlier when compared to other large city and state police agencies across the U.S., the Associated Press survey found.

State police say it once had VHS cameras, and later digital cameras on a limited number of vehicles. But the agency said it did not have the funds to continue the VHS cameras and the digital cameras required “costly maintenance.”

Under the legislation, body cameras would start recording immediately before a state trooper leaves their patrol vehicle to interact with a situation or when they pull someone over, Parker said.

The Brooklyn Democrat did not have estimates on how much the program will cost, but said he aims to pass the legislation and then factor the cost of the program into the state budget.

The legislation also allows troopers to record anytime they want to document their time on duty. Troopers would be allowed to stop recording when they conduct a strip search or talk with a confidential informant, according to the legislation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to equip state police with body cameras. An executive order signed in 2015 directs New York’s attorney general to investigate when police cause the death of unarmed civilians.

“It’s really critically important that we have transparency and accountability,” James told Spectrum News NY1.

Thomas Mungeer, president of the New York state troopers Police Benevolent Association, has said he is not advocating for dashboard cameras, but also does not oppose their implementation.

State police have declined to detail what factors currently prevent them from getting cameras. The agency did not comment on the proposal but says body cameras are effective investigative tools.

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Ryan Tarinelli is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage in a partnership with The Associated Press for New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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