Shelton police get body cameras, dash cams ahead of deadline

SHELTON — Police will soon be donning body cameras and driving with dash cams, well before the state-mandated July 1 deadline.

Each officer is receiving a body camera, and dashboard cameras have been installed in 18 police vehicles, according to Lt. Robert Kozlowsky. All officers will begin training next week as the rollout of the new devices will begin in early June.

Police Chief Shawn Sequeira said the cameras are important because they capture detailed footage of police encounters.

“These encounters reveal detailed conversations and actions taken to protect both the civilian and the officer,” he said. “These cameras assist the completion of a thorough investigation and minimize discrepancies of what actually took place at the incident.”

He added the department is looking forward to the cameras improving the city’s policing.

Kozlowsky said when the state’s police accountability law passed the General Assembly, the police administration prepared a game plan for obtaining the appropriate body cameras and vehicle dashboard cameras.

“We’re on track to get this done well before the deadline,” he said. “This has not only been (Sequeira’s) direction to adhere to the police accountability bill but also to work toward the next level state accreditation and federal CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.) accreditation. These cameras and transparency are a big part of that.”

The body cams easily attach to the officer’s uniform. At the beginning of each shift, the officer must don the camera, then switch it on.

The officer must then hit the record button when at an incident that requires recording, Kozlowsky said. The videos are then stored on the cloud, with retention times determined by the state police accountability act.

“The officers are welcoming this,” said Officer John Giordano, police union president. “I expect there will be a learning curve, but I’ve found most officers are happy to have them.”

Last October, the Board of Aldermen approved a five-year contract with Axon, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that develops technology for military and law enforcement, including a line of body cameras and Evidence.com, a cloud-based digital evidence platform.

“(The cameras) are another set of eyes capturing an incident,” Kozlowsky said. “But the cameras are not the end-all, be-all. It is still important to do a thorough investigation.”

The aldermen approved spending $131,712 in the first year of the contract, with the remaining costs — $42,132 annually for years two through five — being placed in the Police Department budget. The total cost will be $300,240.

By entering into the contract last year, the department was able to access state grant funds to help cover the cost. The department had to pay up-front but has the ability to recoup as much as 30 percent of the initial $131,712 payment, plus 30 percent of the hardware cost each year of the remaining four years. In all, department officials estimate being reimbursed about $56,000.

Through the 2020 Police Accountability Law, all police departments in the state are required to have body cameras and cruiser cams by July 1, 2022. The law, passed in the wake of national protests against racial injustice and police brutality after the killing of George Floyd, went into effect Oct. 1, 2020.

Among the new rules included in the law are tighter restrictions on police searches, a duty to intervene if police witness another officer using excessive force and penalties for civilians who call in an incident based on race.

Other changes to policing brought by the law, including adjustments to qualified immunity that protect police from lawsuits over their conduct and further restrictions on the use of deadly force, went into effect this year.

Giordano, like Kozlowsky, said that these body cameras will provide transparency in an age where so many iPhones are filming police-involved incidents and accusations against officers have risen nationally.

Lt. Matt Kunkel, who helped implement the body and dash cam program, said most officers are asking about daily use of the cameras.

“There’s been nothing negative,” Kunkel said. “We all knew this was coming. It is just another part of our job we have to use now.”

Kunkel said using the body cameras is as easy as using the portal radios, and repetition is the best learning method.

“They have made this technology very easy to use, very user friendly,” Kozlowsky added.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com