Rhode Island leaders back statewide body camera program

GOV. DANIEL J. MCKEE and state leaders are pushing for passage of a state program that would equip about 1,700 of the state's patrol officers with body-worn cameras. / PBN PHOTO/CASSIUS SHUMAN

PROVIDENCE Rhode Island’s state leaders are aiming to equip about 1,700 police officers across the state with body-worn cameras over the next 12 to 18 months.

Gov. Daniel J. McKee joined with Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, and State Police Superintendent Col. James Manni in announcing the collaborative program on Wednesday from the Statehouse.

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The program would cost $3 million to implement and another $3 million to sustain every year to ensure that police departments can purchase and deploy the cameras for a five-year, state-supported implementation period. Funding includes a commitment of up to $1 million from the R.I. Attorney General’s Office.

The state-supported five-year implementation period allows for cities and towns the time to budget for future maintenance of the program.

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The program requires the development of statewide policies to ensure the effective use of the cameras.

“Today, Rhode Island takes an important step forward in strengthening trust, accountability, and transparency between our police officers and the people they protect and serve,” said McKee. “I am proud to be part of a collaborative initiative that will help foster strong, positive community-police relations throughout the state.”

“For over two decades, every criminal case I have evaluated for potential prosecution as a state or federal prosecutor has come down to two critical questions: ‘What happened, and how do I prove what happened?’ If we cannot answer those questions, justice remains elusive, for everyone,” said Neronha. “Body-worn cameras thus can be a powerful tool in our efforts to deliver justice. They show us what happened. They promote accountability for police. They provide compelling evidence where prosecution of a member of the public is warranted. They build community trust.”

The Attorney General’s office began developing the program in the fall of 2020 by working closely with the R.I. State Police and R.I. Police Chief’s Association, while also conducting its own research, including having discussions with body camera manufacturers.

Sen. Jonathon Acosta, D-Central Falls, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said, “There is an urgent need for reform and more functional oversight of policing. This a right first step in the direction of rebuilding the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

“I am extremely enthusiastic about Rhode Island becoming a national leader by making us one of only a handful of states to equip all patrol officers with body cameras,” said Ruggerio. “Body cameras are a practical, effective means to improving police accountability and their relationships with the communities they serve.”

“I am pleased that, working with Gov. McKee, Attorney General Neronha and Senate President Ruggerio, funding for a statewide body camera program is included in this year’s budget and related legislation pertaining to the rollout will also be considered,” said Shekarchi. “The use of body cameras provides accountability and transparency, which are very important in law enforcement, and also builds trust within our communities.”

The state’s commitment to fund the program will be included in the budget that will be considered by the House Finance Committee Thursday night. No public hearing regarding the legislation has been set.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com.

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