HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Few Connecticut police departments are showing interest in a new state program that encourages them to begin using body cameras as a way to increase communities' trust in law enforcement and improve police accountability.
Only 12 of the more than 100 law enforcement agencies in the state have contacted the state Office of Policy and Management about receiving reimbursement for body camera costs under the $15 million program, the office told The Associated Press.
Like their counterparts around the United States, several Connecticut police departments cite concerns about the high cost of storing video and other issues, but some critics say the low adoption rate raises questions about their commitment to transparency.
"This is very disappointing news," said Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches. "It shows there's no real strong will on law enforcement's part. I think police officers really don't want this to work."
In the aftermath of fatal shootings of unarmed black men by police around the country, Esdaile said body cameras can improve trust currently lacking between many police departments and the communities they serve. He said a conversation among lawmakers, community activists and others needs to be held on how to improve the body camera program.
Many police officials across the state believe their departments will use body cameras in the near future, but they say problems need to be addressed first, including how to pay for video storage costs, deciding when officers must turn on the cameras and developing policies for public access to video footage.
"The biggest concern we all share is video storage," said Monroe Police Chief John Salvatore, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. "When you try to add a couple thousand dollars to a budget in these times of austerity, it's difficult.
"It seems like everybody is taking it slow," he added, referring to implementing body camera programs.
Storing video can cost departments tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, depending on their size. Salvatore said it would cost his department, which has about 40 officers, an estimated $28,000 a year for a cloud-based storage system.
Six departments in Coventry, Vernon, Orange, Redding, Naugatuck and at Western Connecticut State University have submitted applications for reimbursement, while agencies in North Haven, Norwalk, Milford, Berlin and Branford have inquired with OPM officials about submitting applications. Plainfield police have submitted estimates to OPM for their camera costs, but have not turned in a final application.
OPM has not yet dispersed any money from the program.
Many departments in the state already are using body cameras, while others are in various stages of discussion and implementation. It's not clear exactly how many agencies are using the cameras. A survey by the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association in December 2014 showed 16 departments had cameras.
State police and public university law enforcement agencies in the state were required to begin using body cameras July 1, under the state law that created the body camera program.
The $15 million state program, signed into law last year by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, allows reimbursement for only one year of video storage costs, while providing 100 percent reimbursement for buying cameras this fiscal year and 50 percent reimbursement for buying cameras the next fiscal year. Officials have set aside $2 million from the program for state police.
Lawmakers proposed adding more money to the program during this year's legislative session, but the bill died as the state faced a budget deficit.
West Haven Democratic state Rep. Stephen Dargan, co-chairman of the Legislature's Public Safety and Security Committee, said he expects lawmakers to take another look at adding funding to the program next year. He said he wasn't discouraged by the low interest by police.
"I think this is just a starting point and hopefully in the future there will be more departments that will apply for the state grant," Dargan said. "I think with any new technology that's out there for law enforcement, there are always issues that come up. The issue for law enforcement right now is ... the storage."
Some Connecticut departments have received federal grants for body cameras. Last year, Stamford police were awarded $600,000 and New Haven police were awarded $90,000 in U.S. Department of Justice grants for body cameras, part of an effort by President Barack Obama to increase communities' trust in police and improve police accountability.