Police to adopt new camera technology

The Board of Selectmen approved a grant application for both body and in-car cameras for the police force. Fairfield,CT. 8/16/17
The Board of Selectmen approved a grant application for both body and in-car cameras for the police force. Fairfield,CT. 8/16/17File photo / File photo

FAIRFIELD — After a successful two-year pilot program, the Police Department is looking to purchase body cameras and in-car cameras.

The Board of Selectmen Wednesday unanimously approved the request for $749,724 for the equipment, although they expressed concerns about future replacement costs. The initial expenditure will be reimbursed 100 percent by a state Office of Policy and Management grant.

“We’re all aware of the trend toward adopting new, innovative technology,” Police Chief Gary MacNamara said. “In-car cameras have been a staple in most police departments for 10 to 15 years, and body-worn cameras have entered the fray.”

While Fairfield is behind the curve on the in-car cameras, MacNamara said the department’s test of 12 body cameras was well received. As part of the pilot program for the body cameras, policies regarding their use were adopted, the chief said.

MacNamara acknowledged the amount being requested was significant, but Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer pointed out that these initial funds are “free money” from the state.

“I always thought we had cameras department-wide,” Selectman Edward Bateson said. “This is a lot of money going forward. I would imagine in three years we’re going to see equipment replacement; we’re going to start seeing this in capital. Is this where your industry is going, is this where policing is going.”

“It is,” MacNamara said. “I think the risk we run, the longer we’re not in the game — especially with the in-car cameras — the risk we run is ‘why not.’ On a daily basis, it doesn’t necessarily matter, but what if a significant event occurs, and we are that far behind the curve.”

“This is going to be a million dollar asset,” Bateson said, and a significant capital investment in a new technology. “I just want to make sure you guys are on top of it, and this is the industry standard.”

First Selectman Mike Tetreau pointed out that “the way technology moves, in 10 years everything’s outdated.”

“Am I going to be looking at another million to replace this,” Bateson asked. Tetreau said about half the money is for the in-car camera equipment, which has at least a 10-year life cycle.

Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy said they are purchasing 80 body cameras, 65 of which would be deployed at any one time. Depending on their usage, he said those cameras start to break down around year four with about a 15 percent failure rate. He pointed out that this purchase would include a server on which to store the camera data, saving the $15,000 cloud storage costs of the last two years.

Lyddy said the body cameras cost $790 each, and he believes they would have enough in reserve to cover year four. “I would recommend a one-third replacement rate at that time,” he said.

“And maybe because (the body cameras) are security-related and critical, we may need to replace them on a shorter cycle,” Tetreau said.

“I look at it as a way to offer protection and confidence to the officer,” Selectman Chris Tymniak said. “This is the trend moving forward and with the undermining of police forces across the country in certain areas, I find it reprehensible when a police officer is presumed guilty. This would go along to protect it.”

And, he said, “Mr. Mayer convinced me with the offer of free money from the state.”

The server capacity will be 160 terabytes, with a 90-day retention plan for vast bulk of the video automatically deleted after that time period. Videos tagged for court cases would be saved indefinitely. “We feel long-term storage is not an issue,” Lyddy said.

Police officials said all of the videos are subject to Freedom of Information Act regulations.

Lyddy said the time frame for securing approvals is short, with the grant program ending December 21. He said there is about $4 million remaining in the grant funding, and noted that Hartford is preparing its application for $1.8 million.

The grant is pretty inclusive, Lyddy said and includes software upgrades. He said OPM has seen and approved the grant application, and it now is up to the state Bond Commission to allocate the money, once the necessary town approvals are granted.

The only thing OPM did not approve, Lyddy said, was $7,500 for training and the vendor has agreed to refund that amount to the town.

“To date, 21 agencies have taken advantage of this,” Lyddy said, “and the Bonding Commission has 100 percent funded every single one of them, no changes.”

The Police Commission reviewed and endorsed the grant application, according to MacNamara.

Body cameras would be used by patrol officers, the school safety unit, the accident division, the officers in traffic enforcement, and those working road jobs in uniform, the chief said. Some would also be used by detectives who are executing search warrants.

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-842-2582