A.C. police could soon carry miniature video cameras

Posted: November 25, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY By next year, Atlantic City police officers could for the first time patrol streets of this resort town with miniature cameras mounted on their lapels recording every interaction with the public.

About 10 to 20 officers, including members of the K-9 and tactical units, could be outfitted with the devices, which are about the size of a deck of cards, in about 90 days, Deputy Chief William Mazur said. Depending on the success, the patrol division of the 314-member department could also eventually be equipped with the cameras, which also function as radio microphones.

The cameras are part of a nearly year-old effort to overhaul the department's internal affairs functions. The department is also installing technology to better track internal affairs complaints and allow residents to file such complaints at both City Hall and the public library.

Police departments in San Francisco, Colorado, and suburban Maryland have either started using body cameras or are considering them. In August, a federal judge ruled the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional and ordered changes, including equipping officers with body cameras. On Friday, a federal appeals panel denied New York City's request to overturn the ruling.

But as police departments and citizens seek more accountability, there are unanswered questions about guidelines for the use of cameras, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit, Washington-based think tank.

The Department of Justice has charged the agency with developing guidelines, which should be completed in about six months, Wexler said.

In Atlantic City, the move to install cameras also comes as the city and six officers were sued last month by the family of David Connor Castellani, 20, a Linwood resident who alleged police brutality outside the Tropicana Casino & Resort on June 15.

A video released by the family of Castellani, who had been told to leave a club in the Tropicana because he was underage, shows the apparent confrontation after Castellani and officers exchanged words. He did not threaten officers or resist arrest, the suit said.

"With no notice," officers "tackled" Castellani to the ground, the suit said. While Castellani was on the ground, a police dog "mauled" him, and officers continued "punching, kicking and striking him about the body and head," it alleged.

Neither Castellani's civil attorney nor the attorney for the defendants could be reached.

Castellani was charged with offenses including aggravated assault on an officer, aggravated assault of a K-9 dog, and resisting arrest.

"Unfortunately, when you look at the video and you compare it to the charges, they just don't add up," said Steve Scheffler, Castellani's lawyer for the criminal case.

Atlantic City Police Chief Ernest Jubilee could not be reached for comment.

Mazur, the deputy chief, said that the alleged incident did not prompt the move to install cameras but that it did further justify purchase of the technology.

"It's a commonsense approach," he said. "When citizens know that they're being videotaped and police officers know they're being videotaped, I think that will modify people's behavior," he said.

Mazur, who referred questions to Jubilee, added: "When we look at a critical incident, we as administrators analyze the facts thoroughly. At the conclusion of that we figure out the things that we did right and look at the areas where we could improve our response."

Wexler said citizens had begun using cameras to document their interactions with police. He said departments had sought to have a complete record of what took place. The recordings can benefit both parties, he said.

"Things that may occur on the street, whether it's an arrest or an altercation, you want to be able to accurately document the incident from when the police arrived, to what they did on the scene, to when they left," Wexler said.

Mazur said the cameras would likely be self-contained and would save video that could be uploaded to a police department server and an external backup server to preserve the evidence.

Community Development Block grants will pay for the initial purchase of the cameras, which could cost $500 to $800 apiece, Mazur said. He said a guideline policy had been drafted.

Mazur said the department was also close to installing software to create a depository of internal affairs records with a built-in early warning system to track complaints and let supervisors intervene.

Mazur said discussion to overhaul the internal affairs department began in 2012.

In March, Jubilee, Public Safety Director William Glass, and Atlantic City Tourism District Commander Thomas Gilbert became involved in a program overseen by the Police Institute at Rutgers University to improve internal affairs operations, Mazur said.

Last week, Jubilee and other members of the Atlantic City Police Department met with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey and other police officials to glean insight into Philadelphia's internal affairs department.


dsimon@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @darransimon

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