DELMAR — Bethlehem Police Chief Gina Cocchiara is one step closer to equipping her officers with body cameras, an endeavor she has publicly welcomed since the town passed its Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative plan nearly two years ago.
Town Board members approved two measures that will allow Cocchiara to proceed with purchase plans with Axon Enterprise Inc. that will introduce body cameras to the department and upgrade its failing supply of in-car cameras.
A five-year annual cost of $51,580.10 will purchase 44 on-body cameras. That amount accounts for each sworn member of the police department, plus an additional five for backup. The price tag includes supporting software, hardware, unlimited cloud storage, and a five-year warranty with a replacement plan that runs to July 2025.
Cocchiara has publicly supported equipping her officers with body cameras since community leaders clamored for their use during the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaboration process in 2020. Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo had mandated each community to draft a reform plan following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police that summer. In the town’s plan, which was ratified the following March, Cocchiara stated support for body cameras “to provide fuller transparency.”
In the two years that have followed, members of the reform committee have pressed the town board on purchasing body cameras. Town Supervisor David VanLuven had said that the issue goes beyond the cameras. There had been the question of storage, record keeping and training. All issues he tasked the police department to research and recently act upon due to supply chain concerns and the potential for grants.
Cocchiara told the Town Board that body-worn cameras will protect both the police and citizens against false accusations and will reduce the number of complaints against the police.
“We’ve seen studies that it reduces the number of assaults on police officers, which as a chief, that is very important to me. Camera footage provides evidence that is of great use to resolve our court cases,” she said. “Sometimes court cases can resolve in a quicker manner if everything is taped. It may help to prevent and de-escalate a confrontational situation between officers and civilians.”
A second measure allowed for a similar five-year, $34,943.98 annual cost for 14 in-car camera systems. That price tag also includes software, hardware and unlimited cloud storage.
Axon, previously known as Taser International, cites a recent study in which attorneys identified the footage as an important factor in the resolution of the case in 70 percent of DUI cases with video. Another study revealed a 24 percent reduction in court cases in the first year of adopting body-worn cameras in another police department.
“We are finally seeing real tangible follow-through on one of the plan’s biggest recommendations having these cameras on our town’s officers and in their cars will go a long way to increasing transparency and ensuring accountability, both of which I’m a huge supporter of,” said Matt Lauricella, a local resident who often advocates for social reform. “This is an important step in ensuring that the work done by the police reform and reinvention committee continues and doesn’t become a performative joke.”