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Politics & Government

Police throughout Delaware will be required to wear body cameras under new law

Body_camera_axon_body_worn_Camera_rehoboth_police_hb195.jpg
Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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A Rehoboth police officer models a body camera

All police in Delaware could soon wear body cameras — thanks to a bill Gov. John Carney signed into law Wednesday.

House Bill 195 creates a statewide body camera program with the goal of “widespread and consistent” use of cameras in Delaware in 2022. Under the new law, the Council on Police Training will develop standards for the use of the cameras, and, as funding is available, state agencies will buy the cameras and create a central data storage program. 

 

Carney signed it Wednesday surrounded by law enforcement officials and a handful of lawmakers. He called it the most important piece of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’ Justice for All agenda. 

 

“It’s not just the cameras [themselves] and setting up a system that goes behind it,” he said. “For me, it's more about the trust that something like this is creating between law enforcement and the communities in which they serve, particularly communities of color. ”

This year’s state budget includes $1.6 million in one-time start-up funding for the statewide body camera program, plus $3.6 million in recurring funding.

Elsmere Police Chief Laura Giles praised the new law on behalf of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council Wednesday.  

 

“This is something that law enforcement has wanted for many years,” she said. “I can tell you that, even being from a small department, it was cost-prohibitive for us.”

 

Some police forces in Delaware—like New Castle County—have used body cameras for years. The Wilmington Police Department rolled them out last month after years of advocacy from some residents and City Council members. 

Delaware State Police still do not use body cameras, despite having piloted them years ago. Cpl. Gary Fournier, a State Police spokesperson, says he’s not sure when they’ll implement the cameras under the new law. 

 

“There are storage issues that we still have to overcome. We have to work with different companies, figure out which actual body-worn camera we’re going to be purchasing—so there’s still so many obstacles before we can get these out to our troopers throughout the state,” he said.

“It’s something we’re looking forward to,” he added. 

 

Fournier says many state police cars—excluding unmarked ones—are outfitted with dashboard cameras, which can be deployed at officer discretion or when the police car’s lights are activated. He says there’s no policy mandating officers use the dashboard cameras to record all interactions with the public. 

 

“Going forward, it would be any officer that’s having contact,” he said. “So if our undercover officers are conducting some sort of traffic stop or something, they will also be equipped with [body cameras].”

 

A lawsuit filed by a Wilmington woman earlier this month alleges that four plainclothes state troopers in unmarked cars wrongfully stopped and harassed her while looking for a different person. Her lawyers say State Police told them no dashboard camera footage is available. 

 

Some experts say body cameras are effective at reducing police brutality—but others say the benefits of the technology may be overstated

 
This story has been updated to clarify the funding for body cameras in this year's state budget. 

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