West Hartford police plan to deploy body cameras in 2021

West Hartford police officers soon will be wearing body cameras, joining officers in New London, Danbury and Manchester, who all started using them in the past year.

The plan is for 90 uniformed officers to get cameras sometime in the second half of the year.

The system will record police interactions with the public. It will improve police transparency and offer a new level of protection to civilians as well as officers, police said.

“We’re always expected to be professional. I’ve always been an advocate for body cameras,” Chief Vernon Riddick said Friday.

The police department wants the town to commit to a five-year funding plan to buy the cameras and then pay the much-larger cost of storing video.

With all uniformed officers recording their daily interactions with civilians, hundreds of hours of video will be created each day. Current guidance in Connecticut is that police departments should store that data for at least 90 days. Berlin police cited storage costs as its reason for discontinuing body cameras in 2016.

But starting in mid-2022, cameras won’t be optional. After the national protests last year over the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Connecticut lawmakers concluded that all front-line officers must have body cameras and dashboard cameras by July 1, 2022.

West Hartford’s fleet of patrol cars has had dashboard cameras since 2013. The town expects to spend up to $1 million to modernize that equipment, add body cams and provide data storage.

“Cameras are a benefit, but they’re expensive,” Riddick said.

The police department is requesting funding in the capital budget, and hopes to get grants to offset some of the cost.

A small group of patrol and traffic officers will evaluate models from Axon Enterprises, Panasonic and Motorola.

“We hope to complete evaluations in June 2021 and choose a vendor to outfit all officers with their own body-worn camera as well as updating all in-car systems soon thereafter,” Capt. Michael Perruccio said in a statement.

Last summer, New London police reached a $1.2 million, five-year agreement for Axon to supply body cameras, dash cams and Taser cams as well as manage the digital data.

Manchester police started wearing cameras last year, and the reaction has been good, Lt. Ryan Shea reported.

“It’s been very well received,” Shea said. “This gives the officers’ perspective firsthand. It’s a win-win.”

Don Stacom can be reached at dstacom@courant.com.