The Buffalo Police Department has released a final draft of its body camera policy.
It’s a policy years in the making and comes as the city is about to receive state funding for 300 body cameras.
After training, some 500 uniformed officers, including patrol, SWAT and traffic officers, will be assigned body cameras.
BPD signed a five-year contract with a vendor, Axon, for a total of $2.2 million.
According to the policy, BPD officers are required to activate the cameras anytime they are involved in enforcement-related actions like traffic stops, serving a search or arrest warrant, and during a pursuit.
Officers will be encouraged to notify civilians that their interaction is being taped. In other situations, body cams must be turned off, such as when officers are speaking with undercover officers, when entering locker rooms or houses of worship or working with sexual assault victims.
Captain Jeff Rinaldo said the cameras cannot be recording at all times due to legal constraints. For example, HIPPA laws forbid video recordings in hospitals to protect patients’ privacy.
The department hopes the policy will “foster a relationship of mutual respect between officers and the communities in which they serve.”
"Forcing people to be recorded, you don't necessarily have to, it doesn't help build that trust and transparency, so if somebody wants to walk up to a police officer and say could you give me directions to the nearest whatever, I don't feel there is a need to have that interaction recorded,” Rinaldo said.
The new policy addresses what will happen if an officer does not hit the “record” button when he/she should.
"There's a form that needs to be filled out anytime an officer deactivates a recording and each of those circumstances will be dealt with independently," added Rinaldo.
Buffalo is the second-largest municipal police department in the State of New York.
BPD estimates they will collect terabytes of data on a weekly basis. All footage will be uploaded, stored on a secure cloud provided by Axon and tagged by the specific calls the officer went on during their shift. Depending on how severe the crime is, the video could be stored for up to five years. Cases like a routine traffic stop could be deleted after six months.
"When you go to delete a video there is a track record of it as well as a reason why a video is being deleted. The audit log and the chain of custody of the video is solid," said Rinaldo.
Rinaldo says all video will be kept, according to New York State's evidence guidelines. The District Attorney's Office will have direct access to the video.
A civilian is allowed to view footage if there is a complaint. Ultimately the release of a video is at the discretion of police, especially if that video is considered evidence.
"We don't want to try cases on the 6 o' clock news," said Rinaldo. "We understand that the point of this is for transparency — we are going to do everything we can to accomplish that."
The Buffalo Police Benevolent Association said, in a statement released Wednesday evening, "We feel [body cameras] will exonerate our officers in a vast number of scenarios. Additionally, when individuals make false accusations against our officers it will be easy to prosecute them in the courts."