Local police will soon be wearing state-funded body cameras

Police officers across the North Fork will soon be outfitted with body cameras to record traffic stops and other on-duty interactions thanks to a new statewide funding program.

Earlier this month, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul awarded $127 million to more than 300 police departments throughout the state for technology upgrades to improve public safety. Among the beneficiaries were the Riverhead and Southold police departments, which received $1.47 million and $980,225, respectively, to cover the cost of body cameras and the computer systems that will enable them to process and store footage. The grants are a part of a five-year program but the towns will receive all of the money up front, officials said.

“I am proud to support best practices and smart solutions that will help our law enforcement partners improve public safety in communities across New Yorkers State,” Gov. Hochul said in a statement. “That is why I am ensuring that our police agencies have the new technology and equipment they need.” 

In 2021, both Riverhead and Southold established task forces charged with drafting police reform plans, as required by then-governor Andrew Cuomo in the wake of the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Both groups listed the use of body cameras as a key objective for their departments.

“We’ve waited a long time for this,” said Riverhead Supervisor Tim Hubbard. 

Last summer, five Southold police officers volunteered to participate in a pair of 30-day pilot programs using two different body cameras courtesy of Axon Enterprise and Motorola Solutions Inc. Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said the department will use the state funding to purchase 50 cameras from Axon, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company formerly known as TASER International Inc, which unveiled its first body cameras in 2008.

“We liked the overall performance and the features that Axon had in their back-end storage and the ability to work on the system and [redact video],” Chief Flatley said. “I think for the amount of time we used it [during the pilot programs], we had some really good captures of audio and video that we would have never got [from in-car video] because the incidents were domestics that happened in houses or around yards. The in-car video was fine for what we were using it for, like traffic stops, but the body-worn cameras, those cover everything. I think the officers will realize how much of a positive that is for them, and they’ll also realize that it protects them, too, from different stories getting out there … I’m sure that the officers will embrace it as time goes on.”

The chief indicated discussions will take place between the department and the Police Benevolent Association regarding a stipend officers could receive for wearing and maintaining the cameras. The department’s policies will be updated to codify when officers are required to wear and operate their cameras. The chief said officers will be required to use the cameras to record traffic stops and “just about every type of call they go on.”

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said several procedural details still need to be worked out, , such as whether or not officers will take the cameras home with them at the end of a shift.

“I think it’s a good move,” Southold Supervisor Al Krupski said of outfitting officers with body cameras. “It will provide a lot of transparency as to what happens when an officer has to respond to something.” Officials did not provide details as to when the cameras would be available for use.

In addition to the body cameras, Chief Flatley said the department will also update dashboard cameras and license plate reader systems on 17 patrol cars, which, he said, “makes up most of our front-line cars.” The grant funds will also allow the department to purchase new portable radios to communicate with regional agencies and swap patrol cars’ built-in laptops for removable tablets.

“If an officer has to leave and do a report in the field, like at a domestic [call], they’d be able to pop the tablet right out of the car and go do the reporting or type a statement outside the car,” the chief said. “At domestics you have to do reports, the people involved have to sign for the reports, the officers prepare statements as well. It would give them the ability to take the tablet out and sit right in someone’s house and take the statement there if need be.”