PORTLAND, Maine — South Portland police will soon begin wearing body cameras, making the city the largest Maine municipality to adopt the technology.
The Police Department recently received a shipment of two dozen WatchGuard cameras that on-duty officers will begin wearing in the coming weeks, Chief Edward Googins said.
The cameras will help police gather evidence and record interactions with the public, according to a statement from the department, and may help evaluate complaints of police misconduct.
The technology has been at the center of the national debate over law enforcement accountability, privacy and the use of fatal force. A growing number of police departments, including some of the country’s largest, have adopted body cameras in recent years after national outcry over a string of fatal police shootings, mostly of black men, that were captured on camera.
The department has been considering the technology for more than a year in response to the national trend of police increasingly being recorded on the job, Googins said.
“Everything is recorded now,” said Googins. “This is to have that recording be from the officer’s perspective and not have to rely on someone else’s recording.”
The cameras and technology upgrades required to support them cost about $70,000. This sum was mostly paid for by the city, but the Police Department also received a federal grant to begin carrying the cameras, Googins said.
The department made the announcement on Facebook on Wednesday morning and will be holding a public meeting to answer questions about the cameras on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
In 2014 and 2015, there were a total of nine internal affairs investigations into police misconduct in South Portland, according to the department. All of these investigations arose from internal complaints, rather than from the public. Of the 23 separate allegations investigated, eight resulted in disciplinary actions.
Body cameras can strengthen community-police relations so long as careful policy is set up to govern their use, according to Zachary Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. But the new technology may also create a tangle of privacy issues, as footage captured could be considered a public record.
“Police departments need to adopt policies that recognize that people in their private homes have an expectation of privacy,” said Heiden.
South Portland police have not revealed the protocol that will govern their use of body cameras. However, Googins told the Portland Press Herald that he is aware of the need to balance privacy concerns, and that the department intends to retain camera footage for six months, the time limit for suing an officer.
Police in several other Maine departments, including Orono, Madawaska and the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office already use body cameras. Police in Wilton, Farmington, Winslow and Gardiner also use them, according to the Morning Sentinel.
Among Maine’s larger police forces, the South Portland department has been an early adopter of new policing technologies. In 2014, it began using a controversial computer program to monitor social media.