Residents and advocates have long pushed for Wilmington police to wear body cameras. That call will soon become a reality.
Some Wilmington police officers start training to use body cameras next week, with full implementation expected in early June, City officials announced Tuesday.
City Councilman Chris Johnson expects the cameras to improve community relations.
“They’re shown to immeasurably increase trust between the community and the police, because the police like them too,” he said. “So it’s a win-win for all involved.”
City officials say the rollout of the cameras is progress toward accountability and transparency.
“Body worn cameras are welcomed and needed, and I applaud the Chief and his staff for embracing this technology and adding it to the array of innovative policing strategies that have come to define this outstanding department,” Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement.
The rollout comes five years after the police department first piloted the cameras and nearly a year after Purzycki committed to finding funding and implementing a full body camera program “without delay,” amid protests after George Floyd’s death.
Some residents and members of City Council criticized the speed of the effort, given that New Castle County police have used body cameras for years. City officials painted the issue as a matter of funding.
Officials say every member of the Wilmington Police Department will be assigned a body camera, including those in specialized units or assigned to administrative functions.
Under the Department’s new body-worn cameras policy, police officers will activate the cameras prior to exercising “official police powers” or when they “believe the likelihood is great that they will need to exercise their official police powers, provided that the activation does not compromise their safety or the safety of others.” The policy bars officers from activating the cameras within Wilmington Police Department Headquarters, unless they are performing official police duties, and from recording conversations with other officers.
The policy also specifies that only the police chief or a designee can release the footage, unless required by law—so it’s unclear how frequently citizens will get to see it.
Councilman Johnson says there should be a different process.
“We’re in the process of establishing a citizen oversight board,” he said. “Maybe there could be some mechanism where the board has some call or some say into whether footage gets released.”
Through a spokesperson, Chief Robert Tracy declined to specify the circumstances under which he would allow the release of body camera footage.
“The release of any body-worn camera footage will be done in accordance with the provisions of the Delaware Freedom of Information Act, the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, and the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, as well as in consultation with the City of Wilmington Law Department and in coordination with our partner agencies (including the Delaware Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office) when applicable,” David Karas, Wilmington police spokesperson, said in an email.
A state task force voted last week to recommend the General Assembly pass legislation requiring all police in Delaware to wear body cameras. It will also consider recommending legislation to create civilian review boards for local law enforcement agencies.