While many were wearing green during Sunday's St. Patrick Day parade, 26 patrol officers from Buffalo's B District were wearing body cameras for the first time, with mixed results according to the department.
Capt. Jeff Rinaldo said B District's afternoon shift was chosen to pilot body cam use in the city so the department could view video shot in daylight and at night. B District is also close to police headquarters. Rinaldo said, as expected, officers had questions from the start of training.
"Like all new technology, there's concerns about how it's going to used, what it's going to be used for," Rinaldo said. "But as we've stressed to the officers, this is an evidence collection device. It's there to protect the officers. It's there to protect members of the public."
Rinaldo said the officers will test the technology of one vendor over the next two months, then from a second vendor the following two months, all while examining how best to integrate the technology into their regular patrol duties.
"So we can get a true and accurate depiction on hardware, which ones officers like better in terms on how they're mounted to their uniforms, how easy it was to activate and de-activate and, also very important, how easy it is for us on the back end to go in, retrieve video, make copies, do redactions and other things that will be necessary as part of the project," Rinaldo said.
Rinaldo said officers determine when to start and stop recording and the first recordings are "very high quality," but they also found some "black screens" and problems understanding audio.
Among the questions to be answered during testing is how long to retain each video. Rinaldo said the department currently is reviewing the policies of departments in both Erie and Niagara counties, as well as other parts of the country to make that determination.
"We're figuring that storage will be between 30 days and forever," he said to chuckles from media gathered. "If an officer shoots video that has no evidentiary value, there's really no need to keep the video. They shut the camera off. I really don't need to pay to store that video."
If the video depicts an arrest, he said the video would be retained "through the entire court process," while he anticipates a serious felony - such as a homicide - would be kept forever. Asked whether the Common Council could legislate the standards, Rinaldo said he did not know.
Once the pilot is completed, he said the results will be given over to a policy panel and the Erie County District Attorney's Office for an evaluation and recommendation to be submitted to Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood. Rinaldo said Lockwood would then decide how to proceed.
If body cams become the norm for officers, Rinaldo said he would expect them to be purchased for each of the 500-550 officers on the force and be phased in district by district. In terms of cost per officer, he said the department is "still learning."