ACLU calls for stricter oversight of Providence police body camera usage

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island is calling on Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and Police Chief Hugh Clements to better enforce the department’s body camera policy.

In a letter to the two officials, ACLU executive director Steven Brown said officers failing to activate their body cameras in situations requiring their usage is a “persistent problem” which “severely undermines the transparency the Department is seeking to promote.”

According to Brown, records obtained by the ACLU show 20 Providence officers were disciplined for failing to turn their body cameras on between Jan. 2018 and June 2020, but only received a verbal reprimand.

He also said that due to the relatively small number of violations over that period, the ACLU is convinced the department’s audit process for ensuring compliance is “extremely lacking.”

“There have been three highly publicized incidents of alleged police misconduct in the city this past year, and in each instance, police officers failed to activate their cameras,” Brown noted in the letter.

The most recent of those incidents was the officer-involved moped crash that put Jhamal Gonsalves in a coma. Three officers received a warning for not turning on their body cameras at the scene.

Brown also referenced the pending assault case against Sgt. Joseph Hanley, in which he and another responding officer didn’t record their arrest of a suspect in April, as well as the “controversial guns-drawn encounter” with a Black firefighter where one of the two officers involved failed to activate his camera.

“The police department’s decision to have its officers wear body cameras four years ago was designed to promote transparency and accountability. Yet these three recent incidents tell a different story,” Brown wrote. “The transparency these cameras are supposed to provide the public is undermined. This is no longer experimental technology, and the time for excuses has long since passed.”

12 News reached out to Paré and Clements for comment, and Clements issued a statement defending his department’s implementation and oversight of the body camera technology.

From the onset, we have followed the recommendations of models from the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police), PERF (Police Executive Research Forum), along with guidance from the vendor, Axon Technology.

We continue to follow Best Practices from around the country on this technology and the goal is to condition officers to turn them on routinely during those situations required by policy.

We conduct Internal Audits and our Compliance checks are very good.  Also, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the footage demonstrates that the officers’ actions were appropriate.

Where there are violations there is discipline.

That is not accurate about only Verbal discipline. We utilize progressive discipline and where there are patterns, those in violation have received greater discipline.

Col. Hugh Clements

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Providence

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