Pilot program for Syracuse police body cameras stalls as policy changes

Apr 6, 2017

The city of Syracuse received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice last year to develop a pilot police body camera program. But the program still has not been implemented.

The issue is what kind of policy the Syracuse Police Department will have for their body camera program. First Deputy Chief Joe Cecile said their policy was ready to go when new guidelines from the federal government and the American Civil Liberties Union made police go back to the drawing board and change it.

“That put our policy in flux," Cecile said. "We didn’t want to throw these things on our officers out there without having this policy formulated completely.”

Syracuse based its policy off of a blueprint the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office made last year that other municipalities are using.

Some updates of the ACLU’s body camera recommendations include guidelines for when a video gets released, who watches it first and which videos are made public.

On top of all that, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to revoke funding of DOJ grants from sanctuary cities like Syracuse, that do not cooperate with federal immigration laws. Cecile said getting the policy right will be critical to winning more grants.  

“We don’t want to put something out that fails because if it fails as a pilot program, then if there is federal grants later on where we can outfit more officers with these things, our grant will go nowhere,” Cecile said. "We're looking for down the road to show this is a success and then we can go to the federal government or the state government and look for funds for additional cameras so we can outfit additional officers."

Syracuse already has the equipment and 10 body cameras for its pilot program and Cecile said he wants it to start by summer or sooner.