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Southold Town Police Department testing body-worn cameras through pilot program

The Southold Town Police Department kicked off a 30-day pilot program to test body cameras on Aug. 11.

Five police officers, including one sergeant, volunteered to take part in the program and have been equipped with body-worn cameras designed by Axon Enterprise Inc. According to Police Chief Martin Flatley, the cameras have already seen some action.

“It was crazy because the first three days we had it, we had three incidents where it was not only valuable, but we would have never captured it with regular in-car video,” the chief said, referring to the front-facing dashboard cameras and microphones the department’s patrol cars have been using for nearly two decades. “It opened up my eyes because it covers so much more than what we were getting before.”

Among the incidents already captured on these cameras, the chief said, were a domestic call, a report of harassment that turned physical in a backyard and a physical altercation, all of which took place out of view of dashboard cameras.

The pilot program was launched two years after the Southold Justice Review and Reform Task Force submitted its Southold Town Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Report to the Town Board. The report called on the town’s police force to “implement body-worn cameras to increase transparency and oversight … to limit bias incidents, civil rights violations and other potential issues.”

The task force was created following former governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order 203, which required all New York State municipalities with police departments to create a “reform and reinvention collaborative” between the public, the police and elected officials “to foster trust, fairness and legitimacy” and “address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.” Mr. Cuomo signed the order in the weeks following the murder of George Floyd, which sparked a wave of Black Lives Matter protests for justice and police reform.

Axon Enterprise of Scottsdale, Ariz., was formerly called TASER International Inc., and known for the electroshock weapon of the same name. The company unveiled its first body-worn camera in 2008 and its line of body-worn cameras has grown since. 

After the pilot program with Axon equipment wraps, Chief. Flatley and Sgt. Robert Haase, who’s been handling much of the department’s technological needs since the July retirement of “gadget guy” Capt. James Ginas, said the department is slated to test out body cameras developed by Motorola Solutions Inc. After this second trial run, the Southold Town Board will have the final say on approving either company’s body-worn cameras and associated software for the police department.

So far, Chief Flatley and Sgt. Haase have been impressed by the performance of the Axon cameras and software.

“They’re very lightweight,” Sgt. Haase said. “All the officers participating in the trial have nothing but positive things to say about it. It [provides] very clear, quality video and audio.”

“When we do the use of force reports, it makes it so easy,” Chief Flatley added. “You bring up that body-worn camera, and you’re watching everything happening right before your eyes. It’s impressive and it comes with a big price tag, but the system is good … Hopefully in the fall we’ll go to the board and with a recommendation and see if they want to fund it.”