RI House, Senate OK bills to equip police statewide with body cams

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Senate voted 38-0 Thursday night to approve a bill that would establish a body-worn camera program for police officers statewide.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. A companion bill passed the House on Wednesday.

Funding to equip around 1,700 officers across every police department and the Rhode Island State Police with cameras over the next 12 to 18 months is included in the state budget bill.

In addition to the body camera program, the legislation would create statewide policies for how to use the body cams and when the footage can be released.

Some stakeholders have said they want to ensure the public has a hand in that development.

Rep. José F. Batista said establishing the program is a critical step forward for criminal justice reform.

“All communities deserve accountability from and trust in law enforcement,” he said. “Having video footage of encounters has made all the difference in getting to the bottom of some very high-profile cases around the country and right here in Providence.”

R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office began developing the plan last fall by researching best practices, engaging with body camera vendors, and working closely with the RIPCA and R.I. State Police to explore the opportunity with departments around the state.

Before the Senate committee approved the bill, testimony was taken before a roll call vote, with some members of the public saying they believed the bill be held for further study, adding they felt not enough research that implementing body-worn cameras on police would make a difference.

The bill requires that regulations address proper use of equipment, data and equipment security, activation and deactivation of cameras, notification to the public of recording, records retention procedures and timelines, access to data by law enforcement and the public, privacy protections, including redaction procedures, and compliance monitoring.

The bill also ensures rules will be established on how the funding for the cameras is distributed to each police department.

According to the state, the program aims to maximize available federal funding and efficiently use state dollars, including a commitment of up to $1 million from Neronha’s office.

The state says around $3 million per year in state funding is necessary to ensure that all departments can purchase and deploy the cameras for a five-year, state-supported implementation period which will give cities and towns what they need to budget for future maintenance.

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