Apr. 16—WATERFORD — All Waterford Police Department officers are now fitted with body cameras to record video footage of their actions on the job and all interactions with civilians.
The department rolled out the new program on Monday, providing cameras for all 49 officers, according to Chief Brett Mahoney.
In a post on its Facebook page this week, the department posted a photo of Officer Patrick Epps wearing one of the new cameras on his chest with the message, "Smile, you're on camera!" to notify members of the public that their interactions with officers will now be recorded.
"So whether you are seeking help, coming to tell the officer how awesome they are or even signaling to us that we are number one.....that's what the one finger pointed at us means right......well be prepared cause we all have cameras now," the post said.
Mahoney said the department has been planning to purchase body cameras since it purchased in-car cameras — commonly known as dash cams — for all marked police vehicles in 2017. The chief said he was waiting for the right time to make the $120,000 investment, weighing the cost against the infrequency of civilian complaints made against officers in the town of Waterford — about four to five per year, on average.
Mahoney said he decided it was the right time following the passage of a police accountability bill by the Connecticut legislature last summer that requires every police department in the state to provide body cameras for all of their officers by July 2022.
"We're a year ahead now and that's good," Mahoney said.
The Waterford Board of Selectmen voted in July 2020 to allocate about $110,000 to buy body cameras, servers and video redaction software from Texas-based WatchGuard Video, the same company from which the department purchased its in-car video systems. The board said it expected to receive a $55,000 state grant toward the cameras.
Mahoney said body cameras provide an opportunity for him to see both sides of every story, especially in the case of a civilian complaint — a formal complaint made by a member of the public against an officer for their conduct or use of force.
"As an administrator, I get complaints about our officers," Mahoney said. "I hear people tell me their side of the interaction, and now I can immediately go to a tool and see the video of the interaction."
Mahoney said he also thinks the knowledge of video footage impacts the way officers interact with the public. Since installing the in-car cameras four years ago, he's noticed changes that help keep an accurate record of how things occurred, such as officers choosing to search a person's bag by placing the bag on the hood of the car, ensuring the search is caught on film.
The department announced on Facebook that its officers were happy to be wearing the cameras.
"It changes the whole way the officers do business with the public," Mahoney said, "which is a good thing for everyone involved."