NHPD and Alders discuss increase in body camera footage for police accountability

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Yale Daily News

On Tuesday, October 21, the New Haven Alders Board of Directors Public Safety Committee met to discuss the newly approved body cameras and dashboard given to the New Haven Police Department to improve accountability for the police.

The Council of Aldermen previously approved funding to hold police officers accountable for the use of force and exonerate them on false charges. A month ago, the Alders decided to assign more body cameras and dash cams to the NHPD, dramatically increasing the amount of surveillance used by the department. On October 21, the Council unanimously approved a NHPD proposal for 147 new dash cameras, 825 new body cameras, 350 new tasers and other support devices under a $ 5.7 million contract with Axon Enterprises.

This increase in cameras came in response to Connecticut House Bill 6004, also known as the Connecticut Police Accountability Act, passed in July 2020. Bill 6004 mandated the installation of dash cameras on patrol vehicles statewide, covering service New Haven Police Department and the Yale Police Department. In March 2021, Mayor Justin Elicker offers a budget of $ 4.5 million in total bond for a five-year contract to update and replace body cameras, dash cameras, and electrically conductive weapons, such as tasers.

Tuesday’s meeting was held to discuss the systems put in place for the new equipment and how images have been handled and processed in the past. Alders questioned the storage, categorization and reception of images. The NHPD is currently experiencing historic lows in most force employment categories, according to NHPD Captain David Zannelli, who has helped steer efforts towards the new system.

“The important thing with body cameras is that we were ahead of the curve compared to the other big agencies in Connecticut,” Zannelli said. “It not only helped exonerate the officers and show the public that what they believe happened has happened or has not happened.”

The NHPD has seen an increase in the number of firearms. According to Zannelli, the use of force is at its lowest for the use of taser and baton.

Any officer using force during a high-risk arrest must complete a use of force form for the ministry’s file. He noted that officers are required to complete the form for any use of force beyond handcuffs and escort without resistance. If officers use force, they are required to complete a form, and a supervisor must then review the forms monthly for content and accuracy to ensure that the use of force is appropriate. taking into account the incident report, images and business reports.

“I’m happy to say that most of the time, [the use of force] is reasonable, and for the small fraction of the time, we take it very seriously, ”said Zannelli.

According to Acting NHPD chief Renee Dominguez, the newly approved designs for future purchases of body cameras and dash cams – which must be turned on during every meeting with the public – will be enabled by weapon technology from fist to signal, which means that when a gun is fired, a Taser is pointed or the rear door of the car is opened to put an stopped person in the vehicle, the installation sensors automatically activate the cameras to begin the record. Officers are required to keep the cameras on from the start to the end of the encounter, except when acting in immediate self-defense or when HIPAA guidelines at the hospital mean they are required to guarantee confidentiality of other patients, Zannelli says.

This increased amount of oversight generates a much larger set of sequences, which must then be organized through an audit process.

“There is this increase in the package[s] that we have received, ”said Dominguez. “It provides an ease so that we don’t run into something where we know we should have had pictures and we didn’t. “

Alder Brian Wingate, who is a representative of the Civil Review Board, asked how often the images are reviewed. “Referring to this unlimited space to record… how often does the team come in and watch the body camera recordings? ”

The image review process begins with complaints. Dominguez can order an internal affairs investigation, called the “I” case. Alternatively, any New Haven resident can file a civil complaint, called a “C” case. In 2020, Zannelli, Dominguez and their colleagues created a online complaints system to help complainants who feared showing up in person and to make the police service more accessible during the pandemic. The police station also receives complaints by mail, in the halls of police stations, anonymous boards, prison mail or through the district director or town hall, he said.

“Every month we update statistics on the category of complaints so we know how to fine-tune continuing education,” Zannelli said. For example, the service re-evaluates de-escalation tactics based on data and creates new policies. In an earlier case, too many incomplete reports caused commanders to establish a rule that officers had to complete their reports before the end of the shift. Zannelli called this an “organic” process of commanders mitigating negative tendencies.

Although New Haven emphasizes community policing more than other cities, community policing instances have declined nationwide over the past year as people stay indoors due to pandemic and move away from more congested cities with higher crime rates, according to Chaz Charmon, president of Ice the Beef, a New Haven-based nonprofit that aims to combat gun violence.

“New Haven has a great stance on community policing,” said Charmon, who is not a member of the public safety committee. “Can we do more? Yes. We need our residents to join the department. We need people who live in our neighborhoods to join the department, and we need people who look like us to police the streets of our neighborhood. It would be the best community policing in the world if more residents joined. Maybe we need to change the protocol a little bit about how we go about hiring and make it more accessible. ”

At the end of each week, the city’s use of force task force reviews all use of force cases to ensure they were appropriate, Zannelli said.

“We’re using three different sets of heads… we’re looking at it from a practical standpoint, a political standpoint and a training standpoint,” Zannelli said. Sometimes disciplinary action is taken for the police; other times good behavior is rewarded: in the case of Officer Paul Vitale, his body camera images of a fire rescue won him an end-of-year award.

“This [footage] helps us train better and find problems before they arise. We ask if this is a general problem in the department? Said Dominguez. “Maybe it’s a policy, maybe it’s a tactic – they’re scrutinized by multiple people, down to the street supervisor. “

Agent case logs may suggest repeated errors on the part of the same agent, after which Zannelli or other executives said they would contact the agent’s supervisor to give him a written warning in an inspection report. , which could result in disciplinary action. Alder Abby Roth asked if the NHPD would consider a project similar to the Newtown Police Department Study, in which an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of the Sacred Heart and his team analyzed 500 body camera videos over two years to verify and assess citizen satisfaction with encounters with police in any capacity. whether it be.

“We would absolutely be [interested in that]”Dominguez said.” We have Yale researchers who often try to do studies, and we were the first to do community policing. We went door to door in New Haven under the direction from NHPD Lt. Monique Colon Anything that could show anyway, we would be open to that. We’re always looking for new ways to support what we do.

Charmon said it is important to look at the multiple aspects of a situation involving the use of force, rather than blaming individuals in the community for their actions. He expressed support for other data that could help in this effort.

“Once you find out you’ve done something negative against your honor, you should definitely be fired,” Charmon said. “It’s a step in the right direction to tell the right story… There are places in the country that still don’t have body cameras – it’s crazy. We should definitely invest more, anything that can tell the tale of what’s going on. So a bad cop doesn’t do it, and a bad person doesn’t do as well.

Partnering with the Patrol Service, officers upload uncategorized images to evidence.com or Axon, two online networks designed for law enforcement accountability and safety, and tag evidence with categories such as “Arrest” or “noise complaint”. These affect retention time to facilitate data storage and make it easier for the police to compile relevant evidence.

The complaint is sent to the Patrol Division, or if more serious, Internal Affairs keeps the complaint for investigation. False arrest, illegal search, racial profiling and lying on a police report are included in the category of more serious offenses. Once the ATI file is closed, the file can then be released to the Civil Review Board.

The Yale Police Department has its own internal affairs department and orders, according to Zannelli. The NHPD has received complaints from civilians mistaking YPD for the NHPD and forwards the information to the appropriate officers in such cases.

Beyond body and dash camera surveillance, the NHPD and Ecker’s office are pushing for nearly 500 additional security cameras in the city, according to NBC Connecticut. American Civil Liberties Union executive director David McGuire raised concerns about racial profiling in an interview with NBC. The request for funding for the installation of even more cameras in the city is still being studied by the council of aldermen. Charmon added its support for more equipment for a safer and better documented community.

“We should always invest in body cameras and in anything that makes everyone safer,” Charmon said. “With gun violence, police brutality and racism, [those] are decisions. You’re going to have good people and you’re going to have bad people. It takes a village to raise a child, and no matter what happens, we all have to come together as a community. “

The meeting took place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 21.


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