<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=915327909015523&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1" target="_blank"> Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit

Great Barrington police start wearing bodycams this week, in a first for Berkshire County

police officer posing next to cruiser

Great Barrington Police Officer Andrés Huertas wears a body camera on his uniform at the station on Wednesday. According to Chief Paul Storti, every member of the GBPD will be wearing the cameras on patrol by Friday.

GREAT BARRINGTON — All Great Barrington police will wear body cameras by Friday, with each officer assigned their own. The department is the first in Berkshire County to order “bodycams,” and with full support of the police union. 

In the days ahead, officers will get used to the new technology, as well as follow rules to protect the privacy of people who interact with police.  

Police Chief Paul Storti believes use of bodycams will be a game-changer in terms of transparency – transparency that cuts both ways. “I think a lot of good will come from it,” Storti said. “It’s going to help with our cases. When we go to court we're going to have more evidence. Right now, we write reports based on observations out in the field.”

Storti said it will also help the department with officer training and in responding to citizen complaints against officers.

Other area towns also are securing a state grants, mixed some town funds, to pay for the cameras. For Great Barrington and its 22 officers, the price tag was just under $59,000 for the cameras and five years of data storage. 

police officer turning on body camera

Great Barrington Police Officer Andrés Huertas turns on his new body camera on his uniform at the station.

police officer looking over shoulder in car

Great Barrington Police Officer Andrés Huertas wears a body camera on his uniform in his cruiser on Wednesday. According to Chief Paul Storti, every member of the GBPD will be wearing the cameras on patrol by Friday.

Sheffield and Stockbridge are next — those departments have the equipment on order. Pittsfield police do not yet have body cameras, and are exploring policies regarding their use. A number of people in the city called for cameras after a city man was shot by police this year in what was later deemed a justified use of force — but only after a complex investigation.

All state police in Massachusetts have been equipped with cameras since last year. 

How it works

Great Barrington officers will power on their camera at the start of each shift, then hit a record button at the beginning of any interaction, as long as it is in public, Storti said. Once the button is pressed, it will record both audio and video from that moment forward.

Sign-up for The Berkshire Eagle's free newsletters

The camera passively records video all the time, but only records both audio and video when activated.

The data is stored in a cloud-based platform that can’t be edited or changed, Storti said. The data is kept for no more than 37 months.

Storti said the department adopted regulations issued last month in a report from the state’s Law Enforcement Body Camera Task Force. The report goes over standard operation, and also covers privacy concerns.

These include giving people the option of not being recorded if the interaction is somewhere they expect privacy — like in their homes.

The report also says the cameras “should not be equipped with facial recognition software, and the footage obtained from BWCs should not be subject to facial recognition technology, except as permitted and following the procedures established under state law.”

Those measures are designed to prevent video captured on bodycams from being used in ways that compromise privacy.

An American Civil Liberties Union Massachusetts report adds that body cameras should not be used “to gather information based on First Amendment-protected speech, association, or religion,” or to surveil activists.

Storti says his officers won't be doing that. "If there was a protest and we have to interact [with someone] then we have to record it, not to identify them but because it's a police interaction," Storti said. "[The bodycam] also helps protect them to ensure that we're allowing them their freedom of speech."

ready notice on body camera screen

Great Barrington Police Officer Andrés Huertas turns on his new body camera on his uniform at the station on Wednesday. According to Chief Paul Storti, every member of the GBPD will be wearing them on patrol by Friday.

He said it is these complex privacy and First Amendment concerns that, in part, account for why many police departments shy away from body cameras. 

"There's a lot of unanswered questions," he said. "We're willing to accept the learning curve that's going to go with it."

Storti said two members of the department wore the cameras this week to test them. By Friday, all officers on duty will be wearing them.

While they aren't hard to operate, they are yet another thing to think about. “It’s just remembering to turn them on,” Storti said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871. 

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

all