Police body-worn cameras: Residents, advocates provide input on statewide program

Local News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Islanders had the chance Tuesday to ask questions and express their concerns about how the statewide body-worn camera program will work once it’s implemented.

Attorney General Peter Neronha introduced the program back in June, which will equip approximately 1,700 officers across every police department and the R.I. State Police with body-worn cameras.

The virtual hearing lasted just 26 minutes, with only four people signing up for public comment.

It was scheduled in accordance with legislation approved by the R.I. General Assembly earlier this year, which provides multi-year funding to each of the state’s police departments to purchase and operate the cameras.

As part of that legislation, Neronha and R.I. State Police Col. James Manni were tasked with establishing and rules and regulations for a statewide body camera policy. That policy would then be required to be adopted by participating departments.

Steven Brown, executive director of ACLU Rhode Island, was the first to express his concerns with the policy.

Brown said the ACLU submitted detailed, written testimony that highlighted four major points. The first, he said, is that body-worn cameras should not be activated when officers are at First Amendment activities, such as a protest. He also urged that facial recognition technology not be used.

“A technology, in our view, that was designed as a tool for officer accountability should not be twisted into a surveillance system that can be used against the communities that are seeking transparency,” Brown said.

Brown said it’s also important for police departments to release the body camera footage quickly, especially in high-profile incidents. He said he’d like to see it be released within a week of the incident occurring.

“Since we think the key goal in utilizing these cameras is the promotion of transparency and accountability, it’s important that, especially in high-profile incidents, body camera footage gets released to the public expeditiously,” he said.

Lastly, Brown said the policy should be made clear that sanctions will be imposed on officers who fail to turn on their body cameras.

Two residents also expressed their concerns regarding the policy.

Barrington resident Suzanne Holloway said she’s been closely following the use of body camera footage. She echoed Brown’s statement that footage should be retained and made public quickly.

“It’s very important that they be held to very high standards of professional and ethical conduct,” Holloway said.

Providence resident Alexandrea Gonzalez said when it comes to the footage being released, there should be ramifications around editing the footage before it’s made public.

“I can think of several cases where … it’s provided, right, but it’s edited and all the stuff is not clearly being seen,” Gonzalez said.

Last to speak was Steve Ahlquist of Uprise RI, who said he has an issue with the decision-making process only involving law enforcement officials.

A spokesperson for Neronha’s office said public comments submitted, both written and verbal, will be used to begin developing a draft of the statewide policy.

Once the draft is completed, the spokesperson said it will then be shared with the public, which will have another opportunity to provide feedback before it’s finalized.

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