New Canaan Police soon will be put on body cameras as they start their shifts, the police chief said Wednesday.
The department will purchase five body cameras to add to two models that it already owns, Police Chief Leon Krolikowski told the Town Council during his first budget presentation to the legislative body.
“Lots of officers are asking for them,” Krolikowski said during the meeting, held in the Sturgess Room at the New Canaan Nature Center.
“They [police officers] want a recording of the encounters we’re having with people, because frankly, most of the time, if not the vast majority of the time, our officers are making the right decisions and handling incidents well, so why not tape it and why not record it? There are some privacy concerns about going inside people’s houses versus outside in public that we have to figure out and make sense of.”
The New Canaan Police Department is to receive grant money from the state, Krolikowski said, and plans to use half of it for body cameras (the other half for distracted driving and education).
“Very soon putting those [body cameras] out in the field and you will see officers with them,” the chief said.
The comments came as Krolikowski presented a proposed $5,789,408 operating budget for fiscal year 2016. The figure represents a 3.3 percent year-over-year increase, and won support from both the selectmen and finance board.
Within it, the police chief is seeking $4,000 for body cameras. In a memo to the Town Council dated March 23, the chief described one of the department’s operating goals for next fiscal year as: “Implement a body camera program to protect our town & our officers from false claims” (see page 46 of this public packet).
Town Council Vice Chair Steve Karl said one group missing from the stated goal regarding body cameras was the citizens of New Canaan.
“We are here as the Town Council and I know you are very cognizant of this—we are at the beck and call of our citizens,” Karl said. “I’ve always looked at us as a town, not a city, and we are here to protect the citizens. Obviously you know that. And protect the privacy. And residents are going to be concerned a little bit if we go about this the wrong way.”
The police chief agreed with Karl and said he appreciated the comments as a resident of New Canaan and taxpayer himself.
“I don’t like running into people in the store saying that they had a bad encounter any time with any employee of whether it is one of my officers or someone else,” he said. “This will be a great tool, and a lot of studies have shown not only do the citizens act better when they know they’re on camera.”
“It’s a critical piece of evidence whenever there is some sort of dispute as to what occurred,” Krolikowski said.
“I think frankly, most communities throughout the nation are struggling with this: What’s the right balance between privacy versus protection and recording it? And you folks are probably recorded 40 times a day and don’t even know it, whether it’s a bank machine or a store and variety of methods, so we are aware of that, and we are being very careful.”