The Portsmouth Police Commission has voted unanimously against the use of body cameras. Police officials said Tuesday that body cameras would not be of value in a city with a low rate of citizen complaints.
Over the past nine months, the Body & Car Camera subcommittee, which is made of citizen volunteers, conducted research and compiled a report on the issue.
They say that body cameras can offer safety options for officers and assist in citizen complaints in theory. On the other hand, they say there’s little research to support that body cameras improve perceptions of the police and have any effect on police behavior.
The subcommittee recommended against adopting body cameras.
Buzz Scherr is a UNH law professor and the one subcommittee member to support body cams.
He says video is an important tool for safety, accountability, and communication in police departments of all kinds.
“Every police department gets to do a better job with the more information they have,” said Scherr. “Whether videoing arrests, crimes occurring, or incidents, if an officer is down or firing a gun or running. It’s all more information police don’t have at all or anywhere near as quickly without body cams.”
Joe Onosko, one of three Portsmouth Police Commissioners, voiced a common point made by police officials.
“Complaints just aren’t occurring,” said Onosko. “For us to spend to put body cameras on our officers when we don’t have a problem, it would be a complete waste of money.”
Scherr had a different perspective and urged the Police Commission to be proactive.
“Incidents are going to happen; like it or not,” said Scherr. “Let’s not wait until it happens and after-the-fact adopt them. Particularly because body cameras have additional benefits.
Stefany Shaheen, another Police Commissioner, said that the Portsmouth Police Department has other more pressing renovations that take priority at this time.
“What the department needs is a physical space that they can operate from in a constructive way,” said Shaheen. “What the department needs is IT infrastructure. Introducing [body cameras] right now to me seems like it's not the right time.”
Police Departments in other towns like Laconia and Goffstown have adopted body cam programs. Manchester PD conducted a pilot program earlier this year.