RPD Union: Body camera roll-out has been rocky

April 07, 2017 06:29 PM

ROCHESTER — A majority of Rochester police officers are now wearing body cameras. The mayor and police chief say the devices will increase accountability and transparency within the community but the police union says the roll-out has been rocky.  

Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo says officers got one day of training on how to use the cameras and since they’ve started wearing them, they’ve run into a number of glitches.

All patrol officers in Rochester are now wearing body cameras as are tactical, traffic enforcement and canine officers. But if you’re expecting the cameras to provide a clear picture of every interaction with a suspect, don’t hold your breath. While officers tested out four different models, the department landed on a camera that the Locust Club says isn’t very user-friendly.

"This was at the bottom of the list in terms of what [officers] felt was best to use," Mazzeo says. "I believe the department chose this because they thought the software associated with it could be something they could use."

The contract for the cameras and software is with a company called MES Lawmen Supply Company. The City of Rochester paid $2 million, a federal grant supplied $600,000 for the cost of the program.

Officers on the street are reporting a number of issues with the cameras. "They're bulky, they're big, they have problems with their activations and non-activations, they've fallen off our officers, if you're in a foot chase, chances are your camera is someplace else, like on the ground. The other issue is, there's not a simple, clear way to tell the cameras are on,” Mazzeo says.

The light and sound mechanisms that would help indicate that, needed to be disabled for safety concerns. The Locust Club also says the docking stations that track interactions and charge the cameras in patrol vehicles often malfunction and in a number of cases, video clips are corrupted when officers turn them in for uploading.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke took the union’s concerns straight to Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli.

Chief Ciminelli: "I’ll say at the onset, the overall system is not where we want it to be yet. It’s not as completely stable and reliable as we believe we’ll achieve in the future. Overall the system is working well, we do continue to have intermittent issues with everything from connectivity, sometimes camera issues but we’ve planned for this. We have a unit in place when an issue comes up between us and the IT department, we deal with it."
Jennifer Lewke: "It's my understanding that this particular make and model (HD Pro Tech) wasn't the cheapest bid and it wasn't the most expensive bid, it was somewhere in the middle. Is there a reason why you chose this one?"
Chief Ciminelli: "There are a few reasons. You've got to remember, we were limited to people who responded to our RFP over a year and half ago. Some of the options did not have internal storage so that was a cost issue."

Basically, the department wanted a system that stored video right here on servers in Rochester not somewhere else on a cloud-based service. The chief says he also wanted a software option that would allow officers to tag their video in the car so they didn’t spend too much time off the street.

If an officer does encounter a technical problem with his or her camera, Chief Ciminelli says there is a process in place for immediate replacement on 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week basis. Since the program began in July 2016, RPD officers have recorded about 141,935 individual videos with body worn cameras (BWCs), with a total of nearly 12,000 hours of video recordings.

RPD has a policy which requires officers to record with BWC in specified situations. The chief says failure to follow the policy could subject an officer to discipline. The department is now establishing audit procedures to monitor and ensure compliance with the policy. To date, the chief claims he has not formally disciplined any officer for failure to record, instead relying on remedial training and counseling in cases of non-compliance.

Jennifer Lewke: "Is it fair to hold [officers] responsible and accountable for its safe and proper use when you can’t always totally rely on the technology?"
Chief Ciminelli: "It’s going to depend on the circumstances."

Mazzeo says the dialog needs to continue and officers need more time to get used to the devices before they’re punished for problems or errors. He also thinks it’s important to be straight forward with the public about the issues officers are facing with the cameras. "Being honest, being transparent with the issue is going to help us when we get to the incident that raises public concern, so they understand that this isn't a perfect system and they're going to have more confidence in the police officers that it's not them trying to do something and manipulate. It's what we're dealing with and the problems associated with it and I think that's huge for the community to be aware of,” he says.

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Jennifer Lewke

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