Putnam Moves Closer to Body Cams

Also pushes ahead with license-plate readers

A Putnam County legislative committee last week endorsed a plan to equip sheriff’s deputies with body cameras and sent the measure to the full Legislature for consideration on Tuesday (June 7).

At its May 26 meeting in Carmel, the three-member Audit Committee approved spending $131,000 on the cameras. It also supported allocating $74,764 in state grant money for license-plate readers (LPRs). The Legislature agreed to obtain LPRs for the Sheriff’s Department more than two years ago but the effort stalled as officials wrangled over a policy on safeguarding the data the devices collect.

In March, Sheriff Kevin McConville announced that he wants to supply deputies and investigators with body cameras by Jan. 1, joining at least 20 other New York counties that use the technology. 

Locally, Cold Spring’s 2022-23 draft budget included $6,500 for body cameras. Beacon began using body cameras in 2018 and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s earmarks for the federal 2022-23 budget include $600,000 for body cameras for Town of Fishkill officers.

Equipping Putnam deputies with body cameras “will benefit the county as a whole,” McConville told the Audit Committee. In particular, he said, they will provide deputies with protection against legal claims and assist in gathering evidence. At the same time, he said, “it will give the public a venue if they feel that they were wronged.” 

County Finance Commissioner Bill Carlin noted that while body cameras are expensive, deploying them was a leading recommendation in 2021 of a state-mandated panel created to review Sheriff’s Department policies. The cameras will not only help the county in legal proceedings but “will help with safety for the public and for officers,” he said. “We’ve been in favor of this for a long time.”

License-plate readers — camera systems mounted in patrol cars or over the road to track vehicles — also earned high marks at the committee meeting. One of three readers provided by the county, with federal aid, to the Cold Spring Police Department helped identify a suspect following the armed robbery of a Garrison gas station in February. 

“LPRs are fantastic,” said Legislator Carl Albano of Carmel, an Audit Committee member. “They’re working overtime.”

Carlin agreed that an LPR is “great” but noted that, “if [the data] is not handled correctly, it can be a problem. That’s why the sheriff and everybody’s been so worried about a policy. That’s been adopted, so now we’re ready to go.”

The Legislature voted in December 2019 to install license-plate readers and, in April 2020, accepted a policy created by then-Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. But several months later, County Executive MaryEllen Odell rejected the sheriff’s policy and presented her own version.

Like the Sheriff’s Department policy, Odell’s text recommended that LPRs be used mostly in major crime incidents, such as homicides and shootings. Also like Langley’s document, hers noted that they could be useful for tracking stolen vehicles, finding missing persons, conducting surveillance and locating suspects. 

She added provisions requiring the sheriff to conduct quarterly audits covering the number of plates scanned, LPRs operated, images stored and similar details, and to deliver annual public reports to the Legislature. Her policy also gave the county information technology director access to the data and the power to conduct “auditing when required.” 

The county executive further advocated an LPR policy that applied “across county government” and not just to the Sheriff’s Department. Langley objected to granting access to LPR data to anyone not in law enforcement.

Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, warned that Odell’s various provisions might threaten the data’s security and make it available to outside commercial firms.

The Legislature adopted Odell’s revised policy, 8-1, in December 2020, with Montgomery casting the “no” vote.

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