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Norwalk Police kick off body camera program

Charlie Hinnant, owner of Charkit Chemical Corporation, one of two donors who have financed the camera program.

Charlie Hinnant, owner of Charkit Chemical Corporation, one of two donors who have financed the camera program.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik’s reasoning for outfitting his officers with body cameras is this: “People behave better when they’re on camera.”

At a news conference Tuesday morning at Norwalk Police headquarters, Kulhawik said he expects his department’s initial deployment of patrol officers wearing cameras, which began Monday and is funded by two donors, would result in what studies have found: reductions in citizen complaints, officers’ use of force, and injuries to officers and the public.

And cameras will sometimes allow him to firmly resolve citizen complaints, he said, noting that until now he’s been limited to hearing a complainant’s story and the officer’s account without independent witnesses.

“I can’t substantiate anything. I don’t know what happened,” he said. “With the camera, now I can go back and get evidence and really see what happened.”

The department’s motorcycle officers, who enforce traffic laws, and Special Services officers, who conduct vice investigations, have been wearing cameras for several weeks, but now all sector-assigned patrol officers will have them.

The department has 35 cameras, which is enough so half can be in the field while the others are uploading their video to an offsite server and recharging.

Deputy Police Chief Susan Zecca will serve as the department’s custodian of videos, and will be the only department member authorized to access and view them.

“I wanted to restrict (access) as much as possible to protect people’s privacy,” Kulhawik said.

Officers have been instructed to activate their cameras at the time they are dispatched to a law enforcement service call, he said, and leave it running until the call is completed.

Before a camera is activated, it is always capturing and holding the previous 30 seconds of video. This means if an officer activates the camera after witnessing an incident, the incident itself is available to be included in a call’s recording.

An officer activates the camera by twice tapping the button on the front of it.

Officers can review, but not alter, a call’s video by connecting their camera to their cellphone via Bluetooth, or to a computer in headquarters or the mobile data terminal in their patrol car via a cable.

At the conclusion of a shift, officers place their cameras in chargers, which automatically upload their contents to the offsite server and then delete the contents from the cameras. At that point, the videos will only be accessible by Zecca.

Kulhawik said officers have been told that, when possible, they should inform members of the public they are recording, although this is not required by state law and will not occur if the officer has a reason not to, such as for “tactical reasons.”

The Axon model cameras are manufactured by Taser International of Scottsdale, Ariz., on whose servers the department’s videos will be stored.

The department is paying Taser $50,000 for the cameras and three years of storage. Kulhawik said that, at the conclusion of the contract, the department will decide how to proceed as far as whether to continue to use cameras and, if so, what type to employ.

The cost of package has been entirely paid for by two donors, one of whom chose to remain anonymous and the other being Charkit Chemical Corporation on Haviland Street.

The company’s owner, Charlie Hinnant, attended the news conference.

“Part of Charkit’s manifest is to support community services,” Hinnant said of the company’s donation. “We call it our ‘responsible distribution,’ because we’re a distribution company.”

Also attending was Mayor Harry W. Rilling, who said of the contributions, “Norwalk is a place that, whenever there’s a need, there’s a public and private partnership that steps up and works toward meeting that need.”

Videos will be retained for at least 30 days, as required by state law.

In the event of an arrest, a video will be kept until disposition of the case, Kulhawik said, and where use of force is involved, or a lawsuit is filed, a video will be kept as long as required, which is a minimum of three years.

Kulhawik said requests from the public or the press to view a video will be handled the same as any other Freedom of Information request.

Kulhawik said the officers’ union, AFSCME Local 1727, had some issues concerning the cameras that needed to be resolved, but has generally been supportive of their introduction.

There was concern about recording conversations between officers, he said, and about an officer forgetting to start the camera.

“It’s something new, so there’s a good chance that an officer’s going to forget to turn it on, and that’s just going to be human nature because it’s something that’s not normal right now,” Kulhawik said. “We’re not out to get anybody. This is a positive program I think is going to benefit the officers, so we’re going to work together to make this work.

He noted that, as a supervisor, union president Sgt. David Orr is not required to wear a camera, but has decided to do so.

In developing its protocols for using the cameras, Kulhawik said the department looked at best practices employed by other departments and worked with the American Civil Liberties Union. But despite the extensive planning and training, he said, “I expect we’re going to have glitches.”

2 comments

Oldtimer August 5, 2015 at 11:00 am

Before long, I’d bet, the decision will be made to turn them on at the start of a shift and leave them on. There is nothing much gained by turning them on and off except we are spared a record of what the officer has for lunch.

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