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An Unbiased Witness: Examining the role of body cameras in Southern Tier policing

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(WBNG) -- Since they were first introduced to the region in 2015, the popularity of body cameras has exploded across the Southern Tier.

12 News spoke to law enforcement agencies in Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Tioga counties to find out if the departments use body cameras, and if so, what their rules are for using them.

12 News found more than 80% of agencies currently have the cameras, and all of the departments that didn't have them have at least discussed creating a program with their municipal government.

Advocates for the programs such as State Sen. Fred Akshar (R, District 52) said the cameras increase accountability and transparency. He added they can also be used to help train new officers.

"From a training aspect, and going back to see what tactics were deployed or is there a better way we can do this, that is critically important as well," said Akshar, who was the Undersheriff of Broome County when the sheriff's office became the first in the Southern Tier to use body cameras five years ago. "When you don't have that, either from the patrol car or the body worn camera, you don't have that tool in your disposal."

While everyone agrees there are potential benefits to the cameras, some people are skeptical about the way they are used.

Darius Charney is the Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a national legal advocacy group. He told 12 News when departments give their officers discretion over when to use the cameras, potential abuses can occur.

Charney said in an ideal world, third party groups would have control over these videos and make them accessible to the public.

"There should be a really robust process in place for them to request and obtain a copy of that video whenever they want to," said Charney, whose group has investigated potential injustices regarding body cameras in the NYPD. "Similarly, that there are policies in place to ensure that video of high profile critical incidents are released to the public."

Below is a list of all 26 police departments in the Southern Tier, whether they have body cameras, and their policies regarding when cameras are used.

Note: Some departments have provided more answers than others; if you have additional insight into these departments and their body camera use, please email Senior Reporter Josh Rosenblatt at jrosenblatt@wbng.com.

All responses are accurate as of Monday, 11/09.

BROOME COUNTY:

Binghamton City Police Department: Camera has to be equipped for duration of shift, engaged to record whenever law enforcement activities begin, exceptions such as confidential informant or victims of sex crimes.

Broome County Sheriff's Office: Capt. Kathleen Newcomb told 12 News deputies are required to turn the cameras on everytime they interact with the public, except for when dealing with confidential informants, undercovers, partially clothed people, or victims of sex crimes.

Endicott Village Police Department: Cameras are always on and rolling, but officers have discretion over when the cameras actually start to record and save footage. Once the camera is turned on, it records the footage plus the thirty seconds of footage from before it started recording.

Johnson City Village Police Department: Officers required to turn body cameras on for all calls and enforcement-related public contacts.

Port Dickinson Village Police Department: Cameras are on all the time; no word on if they are continuously recording, or if similar to Endicott.

Vestal Town Police Department: Cameras are always on and rolling, but officers have discretion over when the cameras actually start to record and save footage. Once the camera is turned on, it records the footage plus the 30 seconds of footage from before it started recording.

CHENANGO COUNTY

Afton Village Police Department: The person 12 News spoke with believed the department uses body cameras, but I did not receive a definitive answer.

Bainbridge Village Police Department: 12 News left a message

Chenango County Sheriff's Office: Cameras are used anytime an officer interacts with the public.

Greene Village Police Department: Uses body cameras, but would not comment on the policy regarding their use.

New Berlin Town Police Department: 12 News left a message

Norwich City Police Department: Cameras are always on and rolling, but officers have discretion over when the cameras actually start to record and save footage. Once the camera is turned on, it records the footage plus the thirty seconds of footage from before it started recording.

Oxford Village Police Department: Chief Adam Francis told 12 News used for all law enforcement related activities, except when victims do not wish to be on camera. Not used if someone on the street comes up to an officer and starts chatting; only with law enforcement activities. Non-criminal complaint related videos are stored for up to a year.

Sherburne Village Police Department: 12 News left a message

DELAWARE COUNTY:

Colchester Town Police Department: 12 News left a message.

Delaware County Sheriff's Office: Implemented body cameras back in 2018. All officers are required to turn them on before they head out on patrol.

Delhi Village Police Department: Does not currently have any; there had been talks to introduce them, but the officer I spoke with was unsure of the progress of those talks.

Hancock Village Police Department: Sgt. Daniel Peterson said the department does not have body cameras, but does use dashboard cameras from the inside of their vehicles. Sgt. Peterson said he strongly supports body cameras and his department would like to have them, but the funding isn't possible right now.

Margaretville Village Police Department: 12 News left a message

Sidney Village Police Department: 12 News left a message

Walton Village Police Department: 12 News left a message

TIOGA COUNTY:

Candor Village Police Department: 12 News left a message

Owego Village Police Department: Cameras are always on and rolling, but officers have discretion over when the cameras actually start to record and save footage. Once the camera is turned on, it records the footage plus the thirty seconds of footage from before it started recording.

Spencer Town Police Department: 12 News left a message

Tioga County Sheriff's Office: The department does not currently have any body cameras. Chair of the Tioga County Legislature Martha Sauerbrey told 12 News the county had the funding for the physical cameras themselves, but when the legislature realized how much it would cost to store the videos, the county abandoned plans for the cameras.

Waverly Village Police Department: The cameras are used for all arrests and when an officer deems it necessary.

The New York State Police do not have body cameras currently; however, state lawmakers passed a bill this summer funding and requiring every trooper to wear one while on patrol beginning in April.

Josh Rosenblatt

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