FREEPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Racial tensions and unrest in Baltimore and beyond have many calling for mandatory police body cameras, but some are questioning whether they are really the answer.
CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff rode along exclusively with police in Freeport, Long Island Thursday. The Freeport Police Department is the only one in New York state where body cameras are already standard issue.
A featherweight body camera clips to Officer Kevin Hassell’s uniform. He switched it on as he approached a speeding car, and pointed out that the driver had been going 54 mph in a zone where the speed limit was 20.
“When I’m working and I stop somebody, you know, it not only protects me. It protects the people who I’m dealing with,” Hassell said.
Hassell is one of 95 officers on the Freeport force, and body cams are mandatory for the department.
“It’s a win-win. It’s for the public, as well as the police,” said Assistant Freeport police Chief Ray Horton. “It instills trust in the police department; it’s transparency and accountability.”
With calls nationwide for body cameras as a deterrent to police brutality, Freeport police said in one month, they have seen hostile encounters defused because police and the public know the cameras are rolling.
“There are several instances already since they’ve implemented, where people come in ready and prepared to file a complaint. We say, ‘We have body cameras, and just prepare these paperwork and get back to us,’ and they never come back,” said Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy.
A hammer-wielding assailant brandishing a weapon was caught on camera, being ordered the floor by an officer.
Contentious traffic stops have also been recorded, and some motorists are glad.
“I can’t be blamed for something I didn’t say or do,” said motorist Jermaine Francis. “I know what I said. It’s being recorded.”
But the Freeport Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is not fully sold.
“If an officer is not worried about the crime in progress, and he’s more worried about turning on the camera, he could be killed,” said Freeport PBA President Shawn Randall.
Other departments are watching Freeport closely.
Dashboard cameras have been in use for 15 years in Freeport. But squad cars do not go everywhere police officers do, and now, officers are required to turn on their body cameras with every public encounter.
The NYPD launched a pilot program last fall in five precinct houses, where body cameras are voluntary.