Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Monday, October 17, 2022

All police departments statewide to utilize body-worn cameras, except one

$16 million in grants will equip nearly every police officer in the state with body cams

By Steve Ahlquist for UpRiseRI

The Office of the Attorney General, the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association (RIPCA), Rhode Island’s Congressional Delegation, and state legislative leaders announced $16 million in grant awards for 42 local and state law enforcement agencies to equip approximately 1,773 frontline police officers, nearly every police officer in the state, with body-worn cameras at a press conference on October 12.

Every city and town in Rhode Island has availed themselves of the new program, except Smithfield. Exeter does not have a police department. 

State law enforcement agencies such as the Airport Corporation, Department of Environmental Managment, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island State Police and the University of Rhode Island are also entering the program. Attorney General Neronha noted that Smithfield is always welcome to join the program in the future. The full list of body-worn camera grant awards announced by the Department of Public Safety is available here.

Under the program, which Attorney General Peter Neronha said will be rolling out over the next weeks and months across Rhode Island, state and municipal police departments applied for grant funding to cover the projected cost of a camera and related hardware, software, and storage, and an agency’s significant administrative costs in operating body-worn cameras. All funding is to be used to operate body-worn cameras over a five-year period and awarded funds will only be distributed on a reimbursement basis, safeguarding taxpayer dollars.

Under the Statewide Body-Worn Camera law, police departments receiving funds through the Program must certify that they have adopted the Statewide Body-Worn Camera Policy issued by the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Public Safety before any awarded grant funds will be disbursed. This requirement is to ensure that police departments statewide adopt model policies that protect constitutional rights, document critical interactions between law enforcement and members of the public, promote transparency, and build public trust in government. However, critics argue that the policy does not go far enough.

As important as the deployment of body-worn cameras to law enforcement officers in Rhode Island is to ensuring oversight and transparency in policing practices, that transparency and oversight is only as meaningful as the public’s ability to access the critical footage and information that is collected by this technology,” wrote ACCESS/Rhode Island. “While the policy deployed by the Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General’s office puts in place a structure for these cameras, it remains deficient in strong standards which would provide for timely release of footage relating to incidents that the public should have quick access to, including in situations where there has been serious use of force.”

ACCESS/Rhode Island is a coalition of non-profit organizations working to ensure the work of our government is transparent that includes the ACLU of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island, the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Press Association, and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

Currently, the policy only provides a vague and imprecise expected timeframe for release of such footage and does not encourage prompt release,” continued ACCESS/Rhode Island in their statement. “Attorney General Neronha appropriately noted (in a news conference yesterday afternoon announcing the awarding of grants to police departments for the use of body cameras) that the public expects to see what is happening on the streets. For this to happen, robust standards for release to the public of high-interest or highly publicized incidents must be put in place. Otherwise, this program does not provide accountability and transparency in the manner which it has been put in place to do so.

“Today is good day for all Rhode Islanders, as we equip front-line police officers across the state with a helpful tool that will benefit them and the public by assisting critical fact finding and building community trust,” said Attorney General Neronha. “In an increasingly technological age, where judges, juries and the public expect to see the evidence on which they are to make decisions and render judgments, making body-worn cameras broadly available makes perfect sense. With today’s funding announcement, we have removed a substantial monetary barrier for many municipalities that continuously juggle critical priorities. This has been a collective effort, and I am grateful to everyone, including leaders in the General Assembly, the Governor, members of law enforcement, and our Congressional Delegation who have made today possible.”