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Potential bill centers on police surveillance

Cost of implementation, area crime statistics raise questions for bill

House Deputy Majority Whip Joseph Almeida, D-Providence, intends on introducing legislation to equip Rhode Island police with body cameras, multiple news outlets reported earlier this month.

Almeida’s announcement arrives during a period of intense media attention given to the issue of police brutality, following the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed black men by police officers. Almeida told the Associated Press that recording the actions of police officers could ease the relationship between law enforcement and the civilian community in Rhode Island.

While Almeida did not address the question of implementation costs in his announcement, similar programs in the U.S. cost $120 to $2,000 per camera, according to a 2014 Department of Justice report. A plan in New Orleans to introduce 350 cameras over five years is anticipated to cost $1.2 million, according to the report.

Crime rates have dropped in Providence over the past year, with violent crime falling by more than 20 percent and property crime dipping by more than 15 percent, according to a Providence Police Department press release. Providence police have also used firearms 23 times since 2007, resulting in one death and injuries to five individuals, WPRI reported.

The Community Safety Act, a piece of legislation introduced to the Providence city council in June 2014, affirms the right of civilians to record police interactions and permits the use of dashboard cameras and digital audio recorders. While the measure has not yet passed, Mayor Jorge Elorza showed support for the act on the campaign trail, and he will encourage the Providence Police Department to begin raising money to pay for body cameras, NBC 10 reported.

Party leaders on both sides of the aisle in the General Assembly told The Herald it will be challenging to gauge support within the legislature for Almeida’s bill until it is officially introduced.

House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield and Burrillville, said it is often difficult to predict opinion surrounding bills of this type because they tend to defy partisan politics. Depending on the nuances of the bill, he said, there could be a wide range of opinions on the subject within his party, he said. He learned from his time on the House Judiciary Committee that in proposals that address the regulation of law enforcement, “the details really do matter,” he added.

Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston, anticipates giving the proposed bill due consideration once it is officially introduced, said Larry Berman, his communications director.

Almeida could not be reached for comment by press time.



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