Lawmaker drafting bill that would require all Rhode Island officers wear body cameras

Northeast

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (NewsNation) — A state representative plans to introduce legislation that would require all police officers in Rhode Island to wear body cameras while on the job.

Rep. Chris Millea (D-16) said in light of recent events, it’s more apparent than ever that body cameras are a tool that helps everyone involved.

“Body cameras are something that are going to protect everybody,” Millea said. “They are going to protect the individual being arrested and it’s going to protect the law.”

“The required use of body cameras for all of our police will not only provide crucial evidence and accountability if a police officer breaks the law, but they will also protect good and moral officers against untrue accusations,” he continued.

Millea said the bill is in its early stages, but the legislation would require an officer to activate their camera during any interaction with the public. The bill would apply to any police officer who has the power to arrest someone.

“The goal here is — every officer, with the exception of undercover for obvious reasons, would have to wear a body cam,” Millea said. “The idea of how long they will be on… in my research, there are some cameras that can stay on longer, battery life, the data on how it’s backed up. That’s a different issue that would need to be addressed.”

The logistics behind the proposal is one of many things law enforcement leaders are actively working to figure out.

For example, West Warwick Police Chief Mark Knott tells NewsNation affiliate WPRI he supports the use of body cameras, but funding them would be a challenge.

Sid Wordell, the executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, couldn’t comment on the proposal without seeing its specifics, but said all police departments are looking into how to fund and implement body cams.

Body camera usage was one of the many initiatives that were included in the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association’s 20-point plan to adopt “sweeping promises and policy changes” in an effort to address systemic racism.

Millea is currently up for re-election. His opponent, Brandon Potter, supports the idea but argues that the timing of the legislation is questionable.

“Two weeks before a contested primary he comes out with bare minimum legislation, so where has he been for two years?” Potter questioned. “I think this is a real serious problem that is going to take real serious solutions and not just political theater during election season.”

Potter said he decided to run for the District 16 seat after a conversation he had with Millea didn’t satisfy him and instead raised more questions.

“I think we need more ordinary people to represent regular, ordinary people,” Potter said.

Millea, who also works as a criminal defense attorney,  said this is an issue that has been discussed for many years.

“For the entire time that I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer, I’ve been arguing that there are bad cops, there are bad lawyers, there are bad teachers ─ every profession has someone,” Millea said. “But as it pertains to law enforcement, body cameras are something that can protect everybody.”

The legislation would also establish protocols for the retention and destruction of body camera footage. The timeline on how the proposed bill moves forward remains unclear.

Larry Berman, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island House of Representatives, tells Eyewitness News that lawmakers will be back in session at some point this fall, but a specific date has not been set.

“The bill can be introduced while the House is on recess,” the spokesperson said. “It cannot be considered, however, until the House reconvenes,” Berman said. “At this point, we don’t have a date because we are awaiting guidance from Congress on how much federal aid is headed to each state for the COVID crisis.”

Police body camera roll-outs are often staggered in phases.

The first phase of the NYPD’s body camera policy involved three phases.

In April 2017, Phase 1 of the department’s program began, and by the end of 2017, approximately 1,300 police officers, working the evening shifts in 20 precincts across the city, were outfitted with cameras, according to the NYPD.

In December 2017, Phase 2 of the roll-out equipped an additional 18,000 officers with body-worn cameras by March of 2019.

The rollout to specialty units in Phase 3 was completed by August 2019.

NewsNation affiliate WPRI contributed to this report.

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