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Initial impact of body camera program is promising, Syracuse police say

Ellen Abbott
WRVO Public Media
A council hearing on police body cameras.

The city of Syracuse could be expanding a program that provides body cameras to all uniformed police officers. The pilot program ends in July, and the city will have to pay for it going forward.

It’s been three months since the police department started the program with a company called Axon, which provided cameras for 90 uniformed officers.

Deputy Police Chief Joe Cecile said while it’s too soon to have solid data on their impact, an initial comparison is promising.

“There’s been a slight decrease in demeanor complaints, and use-of-force complaints, and that is the time frame that we have been fully deployed from January through March, and we compared it with the same time frame last year,” Cecile said. “And I think they are going to be a good thing for the department and the community as far as transparency and all the things that are discussed when anyone talks about body cams.”

Cecile also said the veteran officers who had balked at the cameras initially, are now asking to wear them.

So, the department would like to take the next step; outfitting all 170 uniformed officers with the chest-mounted cameras. The Walsh administration will include the body camera program in the city budget proposal, which comes out next month. Along with the cameras, there are software costs and added staff that will be needed for the back end handling of thousands of hours of video, recorded every time an officer encounters the public. Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens expects it to weigh in at somewhere around $1.4 million, as part of the department’s operating budget.

“This to me, is the same cost as the cars and the sidearms and everything,” Owens said. “It’s part of the ability of the officers to do their jobs.”

Officials noted there is already some grant money available to the city to help with the costs.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.