PORTLAND, Maine — The city has secured grant funding for a police body camera pilot program, though it remains unclear when officers might start wearing the devices.
The U.S. Department of Justice will allow the city to repurpose $26,000 in unspent funds from an existing federal grant to outfit officers with body cameras, spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said.
The grant will cover body cameras for eight officers and is meant to provide Portland police with an opportunity to test out the technology before its scheduled adoption by the entire department, city councilors said last month. The city has earmarked $400,000 in the fiscal 2019 budget to outfit its police force with the technology.
City Manager Jon Jennings previously said police would not begin wearing body cameras until the city had finished ongoing contract negotiations with the officers union.
Many departments around Maine and the U.S. already use body cameras and their proponents, both in and outside of law enforcement, argue devices can be a powerful tool for increasing police transparency and improving community relations.
There appears to be broad consensus among Portland officials on the value of body cameras, but the technology became a point of controversy in February after a police officer fatally shot a black man who had been brandishing a pellet gun. Following the shooting, activist groups including the NAACP and ACLU of Maine urged the city to move faster on bringing the cameras online.
Portland police Chief Michael Sauschuck has said he favors the technology but also warned it’s not the panacea some advocates think. Indeed, Maine’s exemption-riddled public records law might shield body camera videos from being made public when serious questions are raised about a police officer’s behavior.