Close-up: Ridgefield Police Department rolls out body, dashboard cameras

RIDGEFIELD — More than 50 percent of the town’s sworn police officers are patrolling the streets with another set of eyes.

Earlier this month, the Ridgefield Police Department began using Axon cameras to record interactions with civilians during vehicle stops and emergency calls. The program includes body cameras for 42 sworn officers, plus spares, and 16 patrol cars.

The Ridgefield Police Department signed a five-year contract with Axon for more than $414,000. An initial equipment purchase was included in this year’s capital budget for roughly $164,600, with the remainder to be absorbed into the department’s operating budget over the next four years.

Because of the state’s police accountability law, departments are required to have body cameras installed by July 2022. Ridgefield Police Chief Jeff Kreitz said the discussion first came up “a handful of years ago,” but due to concerns surrounding long-term storage costs, the tech was tabled.

Unlike other brands, Axon does not rely on a server to back up its files because it is cloud-based. The system allows officers to upload camera footage into evidence.com from their devices and permits the department to share or obtain footage from the public.

Lt. Nick Fowler said this will greatly streamline evidence collection.

“Officers are able to collect photographs, audio statements, videos ... all electronically without having someone physically provide (it), which is a huge, huge benefit,” he said.

The contract also provides new body cameras every 21/2 years and in-car cameras every five years. “It’s constantly updated with the most up-to-date technology — the best product for our officers,” Kreitz said

Officers receive one-on-one training prior to using the chest-mounted body cameras. The devices can be activated manually or automatically by a number of actions. For example, the car cameras start recording when the cruiser’s lights are turned on and the body cameras start recording when either an officer arms their stun gun or withdraws their firearm from the holster.

“If we’re going to any sort of emergency call, everything’s automatically turned on … (and) our cameras are actually linked to each other, as well,” Fowler added. “They sync together for every officer that’s on scene.”

The cameras record the duration of each call. Officers upload the footage into the secure server with a case number, the type of call it was and other details where it can be viewed later on for report-writing purposes or further investigation.

Fowler said the cameras have been “well-received” by department members. He expects 100 percent of Ridgefield’s sworn officers will be using them by Oct. 1.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said while there have been few negative interactions between the public and the police over the years, “The body cams will assist our police department in showing proof that we acted within all necessary laws and do not use excessive force.”

The tech, he added, “will only ... verify the professionalism exhibited by our officers.”

Kreitz agreed. “I think we have an excellent rapport with the citizens already … (and) it will only increase our reputation (of transparency).”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com