PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Every uniformed police officer and supervisor in Rhode Island will soon be wearing body cameras to help with transparency and trust, state leaders announced Wednesday.
The statewide program, introduced by Attorney General Peter Neronha, will equip around 1,700 officers across every police department and the Rhode Island State Police with body-worn cameras over the next 12 to 18 months.
Gov. Dan McKee, House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio were also on hand for Wednesday’s announcement.
“Today, Rhode Island takes an important step forward in strengthening trust, accountability, and transparency between our police officers and the people they protect and serve,” McKee said. “I am proud to be part of a collaborative initiative that will help foster strong, positive community-police relations throughout the state.”
The program provides multi-year funding to all Rhode Island police departments to purchase and operate the cameras, and requires the development of statewide policies to ensure their effective use.
Neronha’s office began developing this plan last fall by researching best practices, engaging with body camera vendors, and working closely with the R.I. Police Chiefs’ Association and R.I. State Police to explore the opportunity with departments around the state.
“For over two decades, every criminal case I have evaluated for potential prosecution as a state or federal prosecutor has come down to two critical questions: ‘What happened, and how do I prove what happened?’ If we cannot answer those questions, justice remains elusive, for everyone,” Neronha said.
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 added that 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.
The legislation also provides for the creation of statewide policies for how to use the body cams and when the footage can be released.
“Today, body-worn cameras are an essential piece of equipment for all members of law enforcement. They are a key tool for creating transparency, maintaining the public’s trust, enhancing safety and increasing accountability for officers and members of the public alike,” State Police Superintendent Col. James Manni said.
Some stakeholders say they want to ensure the public has a hand in that development.
“If you look at the original bill that we submitted it was very detailed around how cameras would be used, how footage would be released, how people would be held accountable and those things didn’t make this version of the work and I think in some ways that’s the nature of compromise,” Sen. Jonathon Acosta said.
There will be a public hearing but at this time, no date has been set.
The commitment of funding will be in the budget to be considered by the House Finance Committee Thursday night.