Community group recommends improvements to body-worn cameras initiative

May 16, 2019

A coalition formed in 2017 to strengthen the Rochester Police Department's body-worn camera program is out with its first report.

The Rev. Lewis Stewart is a co-chair of the Community Justice Advisory Board.

He said the policy gets reasonably high marks from the advisory board and they applaud the department for its transparency and working to involve the public.

Rev. Lewis Stewart and the Community Justice Advisory Board
Credit Alex Crichton

Stewart said this report represents a milestone because it's the first time citizens have been given this kind of authority, "in working with the police in order to shed light on police policies, practices and procedures."

The coalition said while the implementation of body-worn cameras is off to a strong start with generally favorable ratings from police and the community, they aren't seeing evidence that the use of the cameras is reducing the use of force by officers.

"The body-worn camera footage usually speaks for itself," Stewart said.

The group has a number of recommendations to improve the program. Among them:

  • Discontinuing the use of cameras in schools until a specific policy is developed addressing privacy issues.
  • Update privacy protections as the RPD expands its data collection capacity
  • Require officers to write incident reports prior to viewing a body worn camera video to make sure there's an accurate explanation of the incident under investigation.
  • Develop a policy on biometric searches like face recognition.
  • Provide further clarification of the definition of "safe and practical" use of the cameras.

Stewart said they have asked City Council to meet with the board to go over their recommendations.

The Rochester Police Department has released a statement from Chief La’Ron Singletary:

“The Rochester Police Department recognizes that the Coalition for Police Reform represents the citizens that we serve.  We commend the Coalition for their work on the comprehensive report on the Rochester Police Department’s Body-Worn Camera Program.  We continue to meet with them and discuss the Body-Worn Camera Program.   Over the past several years, the Rochester Police Department has worked hard to develop and implement a comprehensive Body-Worn Camera Policy.  We continually review our policy and make necessary changes to achieve our goal of transparency for the community.    Our goal is to use the Body-Worn Camera program to aid in successful prosecution of arrests and to increase community trust between our citizens and police officers.”

Alex White is a member of the Community Justice Advisory Board, and also a City Council candidate this year. He listed some of the board’s recommendations: