By: Paige Riddell, Staff Writer
A new addition to Maine’s largest police department has been in the works since 2017, and it affects every officer. As of April 2018, the Poland Police Department patrol officers, roughly 120 people, are now wearing body cameras as part of their everyday uniform. This program piloted in early 2017, starting with just eight officers and is now department-wide. The call for action developed from the police-involved fatal shooting of Chance David Baker, who was carrying a pellet gun on St. John Street in Portland. Baker died within two minutes and thirty seconds of officers being on the scene, and was killed by an officer with over fifteen years of experience. This incident made people rally behind body-worn cameras for officers in Portland. Patrol officers already use cruiser cameras, and the body cameras are utilized in conjunction with those. But Seth Stoughton, a former Special Response Team officer, warns people not to view the cameras as a fix-all for police-related problems.
“What worries me about body cameras is the tendency that we have to assume that they will be a perfect tool to solve a large number of problems in a very holistic way,” Stoughton says. “And just like a hammer, body cameras are limited tools. They’re really good for some things, and they’re not going to be very good for some things.”
Social problems such as police using deadly force when interacting with the public. According to the Washington Post fatal force database, in the United States so far this year, seven hundred and thirteen people have died at the hands of police. Of those roughly ten percent of those deaths, the police officer was wearing some form of body camera. That list includes Kyle Needham, who was shot and killed by police in Gorham, Maine less than a five-minute walk from the USM campus. The cameras are a form of accountability and transparency for the officers who are now wearing them. Although Frank Clark, the newly instated police chief in Portland, states the cameras show the officers doing their jobs.
“They’ve time and time again shown us that the officers are out there doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Clark said.
Although this program has little social resistance, it does not come without a hefty price tag. In 2017 the police submitted their initial 2019 budget to the city council requesting $400,000 to fund to purchase the equipment necessary this includes the data storage required for all the videos.
Although students here at USM say this new measure doesn’t make them feel safer. According to USM student Tracy Stoner, the money would have been more useful to further professional development.
“Ongoing professional training in communication, conflict management, and safe resolution tactics may have been a better investment. I don’t feel that body cameras make us safer, just hold the officer more accountable,” Stoner said.
This new addition to the uniform does create concerns for personal privacy when interacting with Portland Police officers. According to the Portland Police Department standard operating procedure, the cameras go from passively recording, just visual no audio, to actively recording automatically. Once the officer turns on their emergency lights in their vehicle, the lock on their rifle rack, or if they are in an accident, the camera starts actively recording. There are special recording zones, this means the responding officer will only turn on the camera in circumstances deemed necessary. These special recording zones include schools, health care facilities, and constitutionally protected assemblies.
The only time an officer will stop recording when dealing with the general public is if a victim of a crime requests that the recording to end after the scene is secured, according to the Portland Police Department standard operating procedure. Another time is when asked explicitly by a person who has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in their home, when there is no warrant. The recording captured on police cameras is kept for 210 days unless the district attorney’s office flags the flies for an ongoing investigation or needed for prosecution. One of the major concerns is that the records are available to the public through the Freedom of Access Act. Portland Police in the operating procedure states that this will be on a case by case basis, but will be released by the attorney’s office for a fee.