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Pittsfield police get ready to test body cams, begin developing policies for video record requests

A police car in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
A police car in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

As the Pittsfield police get ready to test body worn cameras this month the department is developing procedures and policies around their use.

Great Barrington police officers started using body cameras last week — the first department to use them in Berkshire County.

The cameras look like a bulky cell phone, according to Pittsfield Police Captain Gary Traversa, who is part of the team that's coordinating the testing and evaluation of the cameras.

He said if the public were to have questions about an interaction, or if there's a use-of-force situation or criminal activity that was being litigated in court, the video could provide some evidence of what happened.

"We're potentially adding a very significant tool," Traversa said. "And along with that comes public records requests, requests for evidence from the district attorney's office, possibly private requests. So, we need to have a plan in place to be able to locate the requested video, redact it if necessary, and then distribute it."

Officers will wear the cameras on their chest. Plainclothes officers may wear them on their belt. In situations where police are working on an undercover operation, "they likely would not [wear them] just because of the nature of what their current mission is," Traversa said.

Earlier this year, in an incident without body worn camera video, a Pittsfield officer fatally shot a young man, who was in the midst of a mental health crisis. The Berkshire DA determined the officer acted in self defense and no criminal charges were filed.

The police department has narrowed their choice of cameras down to two manufacturers, including one made by Axon. Traversa said besides cameras, Axon also has a software system that can store "third party" video from a surveillance camera at a home or business. And the system could be used to record and transcribe verbal police reports.

The goal is to provide each of the department's 87 officers with their own camera. The cost isn't known yet, Traversa said, in part because there will be a bidding process. The department plans to apply for a grant to help pay for them.

The Great Barrington police force chose the Axon Body 3 cameras, made by the same manufacturer that supplies them with TASERs. The cost is "just under $60,000," according to chief Paul Storti. That includes 22 cameras, a software management system and licensing for five years. Storti said Town Meeting approved two thirds of the cost. A grant covered the rest.

The Pittsfield police department hopes to choose the camera and manufacturer by the end of the year. Once the department places the order, Traversa said, the cameras are not expected to arrive until next spring.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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