Marblehead Police Chief: Body-worn police cameras coming

Marblehead Police officers may begin wearing body cameras within a year, joining police in Swampscott who started using the devices on December 2. Most Salem Police officers have been wearing the cameras since October 1st after a pilot program launched in January.

“I think that body-worn cameras are a great use of technology with a benefit to police and the public,” Marblehead Police Chief Dennis King told the Marblehead Current. “I’m in support of them. It’s just a process of the timeline and implementation.”

In Swampscott, all 32 officers and Chief Ruben Quesada are now wearing cameras.

Swampscott Police Chief Ruben Quesada wearing his body camera

“Honestly, we’re all really excited about it,” Quesada said. “We’re moving toward 21st century police transparency and accountability. This will enhance public safety and safety for our officers. There’s been no negative reception to it.”

In Marblehead, King is starting to look into the cameras and all they entail. “There are a lot of things you need to account for before you bring them into operation,” he said.

Those considerations include cost. King estimates it will cost the town about $45,000 a year to lease and operate the cameras. “We need to identify where the funding sources are coming from,” he said.

Then, there’s staffing. “Who do we get to administer it?” King asked. “How do we handle the upkeep of the cameras, which is quite significant.? In Marblehead, we’re running lean, staffing wise. How do we share those tasks, because it’s quite a bit.”

There’s also the question of who will handle requests for camera footage and any redacting or editing that may be involved.

In Salem, those administrative tasks have not been overwhelming.

“The redactions for public records can be time consuming, but so far we’ve been able to handle the amount of requests we’ve received,” said Salem Police Captain John Burke. “Right now, we’re doing okay.”

The cameras are already having a positive impact, according to Burke.

“When we’ve had complaints about officer rudeness or inappropriate language by an officer, we’ve been able to look at that camera and exonerate officers in a couple of minutes. That’s huge for us.”

About 30% of Massachusetts police departments are either using body-worn cameras or in the process of deploying them, according to Tim McGuirk with the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Departments develop policies for camera use and can turn to the state for guidance. The Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission has issued recommended regulations.

The Axon police body-worn camera used in Swampscott and Salem

“We looked at a number of existing policies,” said Swampscott Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald. “We looked at best practices and pulled out all the pieces that made sense.”

There are several different options for cameras and software programs. Swampscott is using the Axon system with signal alert software that automatically starts the camera when an officer pulls their firearm or taser out of the holster.

“There was a total of six to eight hours of training for officers,” Quesada said. “You just have to learn the intricacies of using the system. Once you get used to it, it’s second nature.”

Burke said the cameras took a little bit of getting used to.

“Like any new technology, it’s different and there are challenges when you get used to having something like this on your chest and you have to get used to hitting the start and making sure you’re downloading the video at the end of your shift. We’re seeing less and less problems as people get more familiar.”

Back in Marblehead, King said a police body-worn camera pilot program could be launched within the year with full implementation in two years.

“As we go into next budget season, we’re trying to figure out priorities and then extras come after that. At some point, sooner than later, we’ll be able to say, ‘Okay this is our plan.’ Let’s get our grant money in order. But we run lean and administratively it’s quite a task, so I want to make sure have everything ready.”

+ posts

Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: