An initiative to outfit the Westchester County Police Department with hundreds of body cameras will likely be approved at an approaching Board of Legislators meeting.
According to county Legislator Benjamin Boykin, a White Plains Democrat and chairman of the Public Safety Committee, a $500,000 bond, which was discussed at a committee meeting for the first time on July 10, will likely be approved with unanimous support from lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.
The cameras, which would be numerous enough to equip each of the county Police Department’s patrol officers—in addition to about 20 stocked as backups—are being purchased in an effort to ensure safety for police and non-police alike, according to Boykin.
“If something happens, it’s usually my word against the police’s word,” Boykin said. “But now you have a visual and audio record of what takes place.”
The cameras, Boykin said, can be turned on or off at the officer’s discretion and footage from them can be uploaded to a database held at police headquarters.
Discussions and adoption of police body cameras have risen dramatically throughout the past several years as the public eye zeroes in on high-profile instances of alleged excessive force, some of which—like the cases of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown—have been fatal.
“They’re another tool that will protect our officers and also protect the public,” Boykin said.
In addition to public emphasis, federal subsidies have also bolstered the adoption of police body cameras.
In 2015, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, devoted $20 million to a body camera pilot program and $75 million altogether to purchase 50,000 police body cameras for police across the country.
Since their adoption by many departments across the country, however, debate has sprung up over the ability of officers to turn their cameras on or off.
While continuously recording cameras have been scrutinized by advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union for potentially jeopardizing the anonymity of police sources and informants, in addition to victims of sexual assault or other sensitive crimes, discretionary cameras have been criticized for giving officers too much control over what is or isn’t recorded.
Boykin said, while the acquisition of body cameras has enjoyed bipartisan support in Westchester, the tools have also further stoked an ongoing debate of filling nearly a dozen police vacancies.
“Some officers are wondering why we can spend $500,000 on cameras but can’t fill the vacancies,” he said.
According to Joe Sgammato, spokesman for the Board of Legislators’ Democratic Caucus, despite 10 county police positions having been included in the 2017 county budget, the spots have yet to be filled and that shortfall is expected to grow to 11 with an upcoming retirement.