New Hampshire lawmakers will vote next session on whether to require state police to wear body cameras, a practice that police departments across the country are examining following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.
Republican Rep. Kyle Tasker, the bill’s prime sponsor, says the cameras would benefit the police and public.
“It protects the police from false accusations and it protects the public from police abuse, and it does it all in a very neutral, unbiased way,” Tasker said.
New Hampshire has about 300 uniformed state troopers. With cameras an estimated $700 apiece, outfitting every officer would be expensive. On Monday, President Barack Obama proposed a program to help pay for 50,000 police body cameras nationwide. The state can’t require local police departments to mandate cameras without providing the money for them, but several local departments already equip their officers with them.
State police currently are trying out several body cameras, said Earl Sweeney, assistant commissioner of the Department of Safety. The department does not have an official position on the bill, he said. Body cameras have advantages but are not a panacea, he said.
Tasker first introduced the bill last year and lawmakers chose to further study and revise it for the upcoming session, which starts in January. Although Tasker introduced the bill before the August shooting in Ferguson, he said the conflicting stories over what happened when Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot Michael Brown, who is black, further demonstrates the need to capture police work on tape. Wilson was not wearing a body camera, and grand jurors recently chose not to indict him. The shooting and grand jury decision sparked nationwide protests.
Tasker said using body cameras could prevent people from assuming the police are abusing their powers or being let off easy.
“That just reaffirmed in my mind that the police officer needs that protection,” he said.
Major Chris AuCoin, commander of operations for the state police, said his biggest concern about requiring body cameras is the cost.
“How are we going to pay for it?” AuCoin said.
Many state police cruisers already have dashboard cameras. AuCoin said he hasn’t had enough experience with body cameras to know how effective they would be. Sweeney, from the Department of Safety, said recording all interactions with citizens could raise privacy concerns.
Police officers in Weare began wearing cameras in August and following a 5-page policy for use and review. The department has faced accusations of abuse of power and was the subject of an investigation by the state attorney general after fatally shooting a drug suspect last year during a raid. Acting police Chief Sean Kelly believes the cameras have helped restore trust in the department.
“I am happy with it,” he said.
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