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Some Buffalo police officers to wear body cameras in pilot program

The Buffalo Police Department wants to test 20 body-worn cameras over 90 days to help decide whether all patrol officers should wear the bodycams.

Depending on how the test goes, the department could buy as many as 550 cameras. Each one can cost between $400 and $1,000. And it could cost as much as $50,000 a month to store all of the data, Lt. Jeff Rinaldo said.

Last week, the city put out a call for bids from vendors of bodycams.

"The Buffalo Police Departments is interested in possibly instituting a police body worn camera program," the request for proposal reads.

The department is looking for a vendor to provide "as few as 20 cameras" to test for three months at no cost to the city, according to the request for proposal.

Here are some of the specifications the department listed:

  • Cameras with batteries that last 12 hours without having to be recharged;
  • The ability to link to the department's existing computer-aided dispatching system;
  • The ability to upload video files using Wi-Fi or, if that isn't possible, the vendor has to show how fast video can be uploaded and what infrastructure is needed for uploading;
  • An easy way to search, tag, copy and redact video.
  • Capacity to store video for at least six months and indefinitely in some cases.

The department is especially concerned about the cost and logistics of storing the video footage, whether through a cloud-based system or a central server.

"A lot of is going to come down to cost," Rinaldo said.

Buffalo police administrators have worked with the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association on a draft policy about how the bodycams will be used, Rinaldo said.

The cameras would not run continuously. Instead, officers would be required to turn on the bodycams when going to any call for service.

"There are special circumstances when they won't be able to record like when they're interviewing a child," Rinaldo said. The department would also have the ability to blur out an image, such as a child, a witness to a crime or someone unrelated to an incident.

The police officers' videos can't be viewed in real time. The footage would be uploaded at the end of the police officer's shift, Rinaldo said.

Buffalo police could be wearing body cameras in three months

The Niagara County Sheriff's Office has used bodycams for eight years.

"It is mandatory wear for all patrol officers and all supervisors working inside the jail," said Sheriff James Voutour.

The Sheriff's Corrections Emergency Response Team members are also required to use them, he said.

The agency purchased 50 cameras – $300 for each one – and pays $12,500 for unlimited data storage. About a third of the cameras need to be replaced each year.

The Sheriff's Office uses cameras made by Axon, the company that also makes Tasers. The footage from these cameras are uploaded to a cloud-based storage system called evidence.com.

Storing data is the more costly part of using bodycams, not the cameras themselves, Voutour said.

"It's about value – not cost," Voutour said of the price tag. "Our cameras have exonerated deputies on civilian complaints. This saves huge amounts on lawsuits."

Bodycam footage became key evidence in a case involving a Lockport lawyer who tried to prevent his daughter's DWI arrest.

The Erie County Sheriff's Office doesn't have them yet but are "in discussions with a vendor for a long-term test and evaluation period," spokesman Scott Zylka said. The agency is working with the sheriff's office PBA "to develop effective policy and procedure for long-term BWC [body worn camera] usage," Zylka said.

Around Erie County, the Amherst Police Department started phasing in the use of body cameras earlier this year. The department now has 10 cameras, each costing $1,000 apiece. Ten more have been ordered.

Amherst is using body worn cameras made by Panasonic which are compatible with the software and data storage system already in use by the department's patrol car dashboard cameras. The department uses its own server.

So far, the cameras have proved useful in a couple of incidents, said Assistant Chief Charles Cohen.

There have been a few problems, too.

"Battery life is an issue," Cohen said.

The cameras run out of power after five to six hours and patrol officers in Amherst work 8-hour shifts.

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