January will mark 32 years since Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie first put on the uniform. Like most in his line of work, he’s witnessed plenty — much of it before the development of computer and cellphone technology.
Based on my encounters with the chief, I have always found him to be accessible to the media, strong in his opinions and never one to sugarcoat whatever problems his department might be facing.
He admits that it’s tough these days being a police officer as the current climate of tension and mistrust between police departments and citizens grows nationwide.
Lavoie told me his nationally accredited department features 100 patrol officers, but for him manpower is still a concern. The department, he said, is down 10 officers.
Nashua police are always seeking quality candidates to fill patrol positions, but like many cities today fewer qualified people are looking to become police officers.
One result of the generalized mistrust between police officers and the people they’re sworn to protect has been the proliferation of body cameras. The Union Leader recently reported that Manchester Police Chief Carlo Capano is seriously considering the purchase of body cameras for officers in the state’s largest city. It’s a huge added cost — one proposal estimates it would be about $900,000. Despite the expense, some Queen City aldermen are already on board with outfitting their officers with the body cameras.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig revealed recently that the police department is working on a strategy to equip officers with the cameras. State police have already adopted the use of the cameras.
For police departments across the country, these body cameras have quickly emerged as standard equipment — designed to provide an accurate record of an officer’s engagement with the public.
Lavoie says that while he’s in favor of Nashua officers wearing body cameras, the estimated price tag of $500,000 for the Gate City would be too steep to request at this time.
“The big reason we don’t have the body cameras is the cost, especially because of the high storage fees,” he says. “Personnel is most important to the department. We’ve talked about it before, but with an already 2.5 percent increase in our department’s budget, we couldn’t add another half million dollars to it. It’s cost-prohibitive.”
Lavoie is all for transparency when it comes to his force and tells me the department has a “robust citizens complaint process” and that his department fully investigates such complaints. He sees the body camera as an effective tool in modern policing. What’s more, he’s confident that any video recording of his officers would show that the men and women of his department act appropriately 99.9 percent of the time.
Let’s face it, technology is in our faces daily, and most of us have smartphones. These nifty devices have the ability to record events as they happen. Shouldn’t a community’s police force also have the same capability as its citizens to record incidents in real time?
Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.