Police body camera panel hasn’t met yet; NAACP upset
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut task force on police body cameras that was created in July amid calls for more accountability in law enforcement has yet to meet because lawmakers have appointed only five of the 26 members, an Associated Press review has found.
The panel was supposed to issue a report to the legislature by Feb. 1 on ways to increase police body camera use and other issues. Legislative leaders said last year’s state budget impasse put many things on hold including appointments to the task force, whose work may be delayed a year.
Connecticut NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile on Wednesday said police body cameras are an issue of urgent importance and he called for an investigation of lawmakers’ failure to set up the panel, in response to the AP findings.
“Here in Connecticut and all across the nation law enforcement has been involved in killing unarmed people and walking away with no consequences,” Esdaile said. “We fought for these cameras to ensure that officers will be held accountable for police misconduct. We’re talking about life and death situations and unchecked police departments.”
He said he planned to ask the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus to investigate.
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee is overseeing the task force. Rep. William Tong, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the committee, said the state budget consumed a lot of lawmakers’ time and it has been difficult to find qualified appointees to such panels. He said the task force will be fully appointed and do its work, but its recommendations may not be debated until the 2019 legislative session.
“I don’t think it’s troubling,” Tong said about the delay in task force appointments. “It continues to be an important area of focus for us. We’ve never stopped focusing on it.”
The task force was created in a bill signed into law by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in July, after few police departments showed interest in a $15 million state reimbursement program for body camera costs. The new law also expanded the reimbursement program to include the cost of putting cameras on police stun guns and cruiser dashboards.
A year before the task force was approved, only 12 of the more than 100 law enforcement agencies in the state had contacted officials about receiving reimbursement. Several police chiefs, like their counterparts around the country, said they were concerned about the high cost of storing video, how public requests for body camera video should be handled and other issues.
As of Wednesday, the reimbursement program had shelled out about $2.6 million to 23 city and town departments, and six additional municipalities had pending applications for reimbursement, according to the state Office of Policy and Management.
David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, is one of the five people appointed to the task force so far. He said the panel is supposed to look into why more departments are not taking advantage of the reimbursement program, how to lower video storage costs and other issues.
He said a state data farm and other measures to lower video storage costs could be the spark needed to get more police departments to use body cameras. He also said there need to be policies on public access to body camera video.
“We are concerned that the task force didn’t materialize,” McGuire said, referring to ACLU officials. “But we remain committed to make sure body cameras are implemented here in Connecticut. There are still a lot of issues out there that need to be grappled with.”