CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s statewide body-worn camera program just received a major financial boost.
Attorney General Peter Neronha said Wednesday that the state has secured $16 million to purchase 1,773 body-worn cameras, which will be dispersed among 42 law enforcement agencies.
The funding not only covers the cost of the cameras themselves, but also the related hardware, software and storage necessary to operate them.
“That is a lot of law enforcement officers which will now have the tools to bring us into the century in which we are operating,” Neronha said.
“Technology is advancing and law enforcement needs to advance with it,” he continued. “It’s all about finding truth and through truth, we find justice.”
Neronha said only two Rhode Island police departments equip their officers with body-worn cameras: Providence and Newport.
Neronha said Smithfield is the only law enforcement agency that will not equip its officers with body-worn cameras. If the department has a change of heart, Neronha said it can opt in at any time.
“These are tools and each department has to decide for itself whether it is a tool that they want to take advantage of,” Neronha said.
Smithfield Richard St. Sauveur said the department plans to closely monitor the statewide program and assess the pros and cons before opting in.
“We were never obligated to join the program in its current form,” St. Sauveur said in a statement. “We will always be in a position to develop a program that satisfies the needs of the Smithfield Police Department and the community we serve.”
Watch: AG Neronha announces statewide body-cam program (story continues below)
Jim Vincent, president of NAACP Providence, described the initiative as a major step forward.
“These are tools we have come to expect from our police departments,” Vincent said. “We have seen their use quell unwarranted criticisms and bring troubling conduct to light.”
“They help promote accountability and transparency in police work,” he continued. “When used right, they can be a force for good and a vehicle towards greater professionalism and better training.”
Neronha said officers will be trained on how to use the body-worn cameras through an already-established statewide policy. The policy details when officers should activate the devices and how departments should handle public records requests for footage.
“The idea is to take this policy, train on it and use best practices,” he said. “It’s better for the police officers and it’s better for the public.”
Neronha said Rhode Island is one of the first states to implement a statewide body-worn camera program.
It’s unclear exactly when officers will be equipped with the cameras, though Neronha said it should happen “very soon.”