Garone Notes ‘Gray Area’ for Police Body Cameras

The Derry Town Council has authorized Town Administrator Galen Stearns to allow Rockingham County to act as fiscal agent in the town’s application for a Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) for 2015.

Police Chief Ed Garone presented the grant at the June 16 Town Council meeting, when he also responded to a Councilor’s question about police body cameras.

Garone said the grant, which the department has received in the past, comes from the U.S. Department of Justice to local communities. It is administered by Rockingham County, acting as the fiscal agent, and is $14,790. When the county takes its 5 percent administrative fee the net amount will be $14,051, Garone said.

The application is due June 26 and may be viewed on the Police Department page on the Web site, Garone said.

Councilor Mark Osborne asked Garone, “If this application is approved, what tasks will it allow the Police Department to better accomplish?”

Garone said that would be finalized in a future meeting. “This just asks the County to act as our fiscal agent,” he said.

Garone told the Council that his department had reduced its budget by $130,000 before it came to Stearns with its requests for 2016. If accepted, the grant could help him replace some of the items he cut, including the following:

• Ceramic plates for bulletproof vests;
• Shelving for evidence storage; and/or
• Forensic equipment for detectives.

“These are all items not covered by our budget,” Garone said. “They are part of the $130,000 we cut out.”

Osborne took the opportunity to ask Garone about body cameras for officers, and Garone said it wasn’t a black-and-white issue. The state laws regarding wiretapping are part of the gray, he said. “By state law, you do not have the right to record someone without their permission if it is not in a public place,” he explained. “Suppose one of our officers responds to a domestic dispute, and tells one of the parties he’s recording them. Then things go south and other people come into the room. It’s fertile ground for litigation.”

Garone said he is waiting for a component to the state law that will “hold towns and officers harmless.”

Garone also said it’s problematic in private homes. “I come into your home, the camera is on, it sweeps around and picks up your gun collection, maybe a coin collection, and that becomes public record,” he said. “Is it an invasion of privacy?”

Also, Garone said, the camera will “accurately and permanently” record everything it sees for a radius of 160 to 170 degrees. An officer’s vision is 40 to 50 degrees, and under extreme stress, can narrow to as little as 1/2 a degree. “The officer will be judged by this,” he said, creating a large space with his hands, “and he’ll be reacting to this,” creating a smaller space. “The camera shows a lot the officer can’t see, yet the officer will be held accountable.”

In regards to the JAG, the Council voted unanimously for Stearns to sign the agreement naming Rockingham County as the fiscal agent.