Riverhead Town officials say they are committed to bringing body cameras to town police officers in the near future.
The call for body cameras has been heard around the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as well as other cases where a police officer killed someone, often a minority, some of which were captured on civilians’ video cameras and led to protests.
The Town Board on Monday unanimously voted to approve a “Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan” that was required of all municipalities with police departments as part of an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo lasted year.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller has said the body cameras are expensive, estimating it as about $160,000 per year. The reform plan, put together by a town-appointed “Law Enforcement Advisory Panel,” originally said the body cameras were a “long range” goal, taking up to five years.
Monday’s meeting drew speakers and several letters calling for body cameras.
Denise McGraw of Ridge recounted an incident from five years ago in the Walmart parking lot in Riverhead.
She said she was trying to talk to her son where “out of the clear blue, there was nobody around, no cameras, someone grabs my right shoulder while I’m talking to my son.” She described the person as a police officer who threw her to the cement. She said the officer also threw her 13-year-old daughter to the cement.
Four other police officers who were in Walmart backed up the officer’s account of what happened, although Ms. McGraw said they didn’t see what happened.
“I support the police but I will never forget this,” she said. “I think police cameras are absolutely necessary.”
Chief Hegermiller said he remembers the incident.
“Not exactly the way Ms. McGraw tells it,” he said. “I emailed everybody on this incident and the officer was exonerated. This is exactly why we want police cameras.”
“Cameras protect everybody,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said. “I have to agree. I know it’s a budget issue but I think this is an area I think we have to find money for.”
“Absolutely,” said Supervisor Yvette Aguiar. “Most police officers, and me being a former police officer two careers ago, agree. I am a big support of cameras.”
She said the town will seek grant money for the cameras.
“The body cameras will help the officers tremendously,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard, a retired town police officer.
“I seriously don’t understand why there’s even a question” about the need for cops wearing body cameras, said Darlene McDay of Medford.
She said her son was arrested in 2017 and sent to the county jail, where he was allegedly beat up by correction officers.
She said cameras can also exonerate an officer if someone makes a false charge against the officer.
Ms. Aguiar said the incident Ms. McDay described is in Suffolk County jurisdiction and not Riverhead Town. She said there is litigation regarding that case.
The reform plans were due to be delivered to the governor’s office by April 1.