Bernardston PD launches body camera program

Bernardston Police Officer Thomas Chabot wears a body camera that can record interactions with the public.

Bernardston Police Officer Thomas Chabot wears a body camera that can record interactions with the public. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Bernardston Police Officer Thomas Chabot wears a body camera that can record interactions with the public.

Bernardston Police Officer Thomas Chabot wears a body camera that can record interactions with the public. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-22-2024 1:38 PM

BERNARDSTON — With the help of a federal grant program, the Bernardston Police Department launched its long-awaited body camera program at the beginning of the month.

Police Chief James Palmeri said the program has been a long time coming, but the financial burden of buying the cameras was always an obstacle his department could not overcome. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Emergency Health Care Program, the department was able to clear that hurdle. The grant provided the town with more than $74,000 in federal funding, according to Town Administrator Karen Kelly.

“It was nice to see the grants out there and we jumped on it,” Palmeri said, adding that recent police reform laws made it difficult to purchase the equipment because of the money needed to send officers to training.

Beginning at the start of the month, Bernardston’s seven officers began wearing the cameras for the first time on their daily shifts in both their town and in neighboring Leyden, which receives services from the Bernardston Police Department through an inter-municipal agreement.

Palmeri said the cameras are “really user-friendly” and officers take them home at the end of their shift to charge them. Footage is easily uploaded to a server and cannot be altered or edited.

He said having cameras is a win-win for the entire community because it “keeps us above board” — though Palmeri noted they have had no recent incidents or complaints because of his great staff — while also ensuring there is protection for both officers and the public if something were to happen.

“We’ve got enough cameras for everybody and basically, you just put them on and they do everything you want them to do. … I love these things, we’ve had no problems,” Palmeri said. “These are really to protect everybody — society, the police. It’s too much ‘he said, she said.’ … Cameras and videos speak volumes as long as you see the full picture.”

The department joins others in Franklin County in implementing the equipment. Greenfield launched its body camera program in 2022 and acting Police Chief Todd Dodge said the cameras have been an invaluable resource to the department and the city in the time since the officers have been using them.

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“To say the body camera program has been useful would be a massive understatement. The use of cameras provides our department with the best opportunity to be transparent with the community, and they certainly serve to hold both officers and citizens accountable for their respective actions,” Dodge wrote in an email. “Cameras end the ‘he say, she say’ debates and make internal investigations far less time-consuming and far less stressful for all involved. It is my belief that all police agencies should have a body camera program.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.