The Maine State Police would get body cameras for the first time under a proposal in Gov. Janet Mills’ supplemental budget.
The budget calls for spending $624,000 for the cameras, which are already in use in other police departments across the state, including Portland and South Portland.
The line item is part of the budget that outlines Mills’ proposals for what to do with an estimated $822 million budget surplus. Lawmakers will begin consideration of the package next week with a series of presentations on the proposals, followed by public hearings.
Major items include spending half of the surplus to issue $500 checks to Maine taxpayers, providing two years of free community college to students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, investing $100 million in transportation needs and setting aside additional money in the state’s rainy day fund.
State police currently use cruiser cameras – commonly called dash cams – but are pursuing body cameras to help document “events that take place away from the cruiser as well,” according to Lt. David Tripp, who responded to emailed questions from Spectrum News Maine.
“The initiative was pursued so that we could provide our troopers a better tool to more effectively do their job in providing public safety in the communities they serve,” he wrote.
The cameras will document contacts with the public, arrests and critical incidents and serve to “enhance officer accountability and transparency,” according to Tripp.
The department will consider model policies from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and best practices from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, when developing guidelines for how the cameras should be used, he said.
Various legislative committees will begin meeting Monday, with the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee reviewing all parts of the budget. Hearings have been scheduled for seven days and will likely be followed by weeks of work sessions.
Highlights of the hearings include:
9:30 a.m. Monday, presentation of changes to the Department of Health and Human Services, followed by public testimony at 1 p.m. Proposals include adding funding and positions to the ombudsman program that investigates complaints about the Office of Child and Family Services. Also, the budget would set aside $30 million in a MaineCare Stabilization Fund.
9:30 a.m. Tuesday, presentation by the state Department of Education and higher education institutions, followed by public testimony at 1 p.m. Proposals include spending $20 million on free community college for students affected by the pandemic and the creation of a $30 million Education Stabilization Fund.
10:30 a.m. Wednesday, testimony and public comment on adding $10 million to the state’s rainy day fund, transferring $8.5 million to a COVID-19 response fund, and spending $300,000 on a study of paid family and medical leave. Then at 1 p.m., testimony on an expansion of the federal earned income tax credit, a student loan repayment program and a proposal to spend $411 million to send $500 checks to Maine taxpayers.
11 a.m. Thursday, consideration of state police body cameras and the transfer of $100 million for transportation needs, followed at 1 p.m. by a proposal to spend $14.7 million for a one-time payment to retired state workers and teachers. Also, consideration of the creation of the Housing Opportunity Program in the Department of Economic and Community Development.
10 a.m. Friday, review of proposals in the Judicial Department, including the transfer of $1.3 million to pay for Maine Civil Legal Services. Then at 1 p.m., consideration of a $ 7 million transfer to the Efficiency Maine Trust for the electric vehicle rebate program and at 3 p.m., review of a proposal to spend $3 million to help farmers affected by PFAS chemical contamination. The $3 million through the Department of Agriculture is part of $9 million earmarked for PFAS issues in the budget.
10 a.m. March 7, proposals by the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, governor’s office and Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. At 1 p.m., the Department of Economic and Community Development will present its initiatives, including the transfer of $970,100 to the Loring Development Authority.
10 a.m. March 8, the committee will consider allowing the state to borrow up to $39.5 million to build a new Inland Fisheries and Wildlife headquarters in Augusta. At 2 p.m., the committee will hear testimony on a $3.2 million plan to improve laboratory testing for the forever chemicals known as PFAS.