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Falls officers to begin using body cameras

NIAGARA FALLS – When they’re equipped with body cameras early next year, police in Niagara Falls will join just a handful of other Western New York departments either using or considering using the technology.

The City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to approve the purchase of 48 body cameras.

Though the move follows the high-profile deaths of unarmed black men in confrontations with police in Staten Island and Ferguson, Mo., it had been in the works since before those events occurred, said Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto.

“I think it’s important to note that this purchase, although highlighted by current events, is not a knee-jerk reaction to them,” DalPorto said. “The Niagara Falls Police Department has always been on the cutting edge of crime fighting as well as the technology associated with that crime fighting. We think it’s just another step in that direction.”

The cameras, to be purchased on a state contract from a company called Linstar, will provide high-resolution video and audio, and have the ability to capture still images and night-vision capability. They’ll also be able to serve as the radio microphone on an officer’s vest, meaning there will be no additional equipment for the officers to carry.

The cameras also will have a feature that does not allow any of the recorded material to be deleted. Only department brass will be able to move the data off the cameras.

“We’re getting this camera because it will provide an accurate record of the events, whether it’s a traffic stop or something more serious,” DalPorto said. “It’ll provide an independent, accurate record of exactly what happened in any given call.”

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s Transit Police have been using body cameras for roughly 18 months. Orchard Park Police are in the process of looking at how to implement them, and Buffalo Police also are looking at getting cameras for its officers.

The Falls department has had dashboard cameras in its vehicles for more than 10 years.

Council Chairman Charles A. Walker said he believes the body cameras will take the guesswork out of he-said, she-said situations involving disputes between the police and the community.

Councilman Andrew P. Touma said he was “elated” the city would be moving forward and buying the equipment.

“I believe it holds both the Police Department and the citizens accountable,” Touma said.

City officials expect to place the order for the cameras in the coming days, before a discount expires, said Mayor Paul A. Dyster. The Police Department is finalizing its written policy and protocol for the cameras’ use and the body cameras may be deployed as early as the end of January, he said.

Dyster said he believes the department’s acceptance of technological change shows it is responsive to the community. It also signals that police have confidence in their own skill, training and judgment.

“They believe that they’re abiding by the regulations the vast majority of the time and they’re not afraid to have the world see how it is that they go out and do their jobs,” the mayor said.

The 48 cameras and 20 camera cables will cost $22,500. Their use will be mandatory for officers in the Falls, rather than voluntary, as it is with the NFTA police.

In addition to having the support of each city lawmaker, both the Police Department’s administration and the officers supported the move, DalPorto said.

“I think that speaks to the professionalism of the Police Department that we have here in Niagara Falls,” DalPorto said.