GARDINER — A white van with its headlights off went by Officer Normand Gove on Thursday night on Brunswick Avenue, so he stopped it. At the van’s window, the officer smelled marijuana.

His first question to the woman in the driver’s seat: Are you a medical marijuana patient? She said no, giving him probable cause to search the van, where needles also were found. Eventually, the 10-year veteran of Gardiner’s police force summoned a Lisbon woman and a Brunswick man riding with her to court on drug charges.

And if you don’t believe Gove’s account of the stop? “I’ve got it all on video,” he said.

Gove’s department is one of the scattershot cities and towns in central Maine that began using chest-worn cameras departmentwide well before a recent national push for police to adopt them. Three years ago, Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said his department started using body cameras during traffic stops, crime scene visits and most other interactions with the public.

Now the department has seven of them. They cost $700 to $800 per unit – cheap compared to the in-car units that Gardiner hasn’t had and would have had to pay thousands to install. Toman said officers have embraced the body cameras, which help them write reports, document cases and guard against citizen complaints. “I think it’s one of the best things we’ve purchased, actually,” the chief said.

Other area departments using them include those in Wilton, Farmington, Richmond and Monmouth. They bought them in the last few years as a more portable and cheaper alternative to dashboard cameras, which are more common. Meanwhile, larger Maine police agencies – including the Maine State Police and departments in Portland, Bangor, Lewiston and Augusta – haven’t bought body cameras.

Those departments say they would consider using body cameras, but they cited cost as a main prohibitive factor.

Last week, President Barack Obama asked Congress to spend $263 million over three years to give police cameras, training and other resources in an effort to increase public confidence in law enforcement. Of that, the federal government would use $75 million to help buy 50,000 body cameras for police through a program that would match state and local funding.

The proposal was a response to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, where racial divides were highlighted after Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old suspected of robbery, was shot and killed by white police officer Darren Wilson after a scuffle in August.

Brown’s family has said it would work “to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera,” but Obama’s proposal wouldn’t get close to that: 50,000 cameras would cover less than a tenth of the nation’s police officers, estimated at just under 700,000 people.

In Maine and across the nation, cameras in police cruisers are common, but not quite standard: In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice said 72 percent of state police and highway patrol cars had cameras, up from 11 percent in 2000. The Maine State Police installed cruiser cameras in 1995, but like most agencies nationwide, they don’t use body cameras.

A Justice Department survey of a sampling of police agencies in July 2013 found that 75 percent of those departments didn’t use them. But calls for them have grown louder of late, with New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia rolling out pilot programs.

In some places, police unions have opposed mandatory expansion of body camera use, but there’s little opposition to the concept among police in Maine. The American Civil Liberties Union, which generally opposes many government surveillance programs, supports the concept of body cameras as long as individual privacy is protected.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said he didn’t oppose the idea, but departments must set clear expectations for officers before using them. “There’s a lot of things to be discussed before you just put a camera on,” he said.

With body cameras, the onus is typically on the officer to turn them on. In Gardiner, Toman has issued a written policy on body camera footage, which says officers must switch their cameras on when exiting their cruiser ahead of interactions. It can be switched off only after interactions. The policy says that videos must be kept for at least three months in Gardiner, but if there’s an arrest, they are maintained indefinitely and handed to prosecutors as evidence.

Rachel Healy, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Maine, praised Gardiner’s policy overall, especially the part that makes officers leave cameras on throughout interactions. She said she would liked to have seen certain allowances made for recording inside homes and disclosing the fact that officers often are recording, but she said Gardiner is well ahead of most agencies.

“In the end, when these ultimately will be routine and technology advances, these problems will work themselves out,” Healy said.

Gardiner is ahead of Wilton, whose department is more casual about using the cameras. Police Chief Heidi Wilcox said there’s no written policy for her officers, who follow “best-use” practices when using body cameras.

The Waterville Police Department doesn’t provide body cameras to its police, but Officer Damon Lefferts bought one for his own use last year. He told the Morning Sentinel that it once helped him get evidence in a domestic violence case. However, Police Chief Joseph Massey said last week that he’ll ask Lefferts to stop using it until the department can develop protocols and determine how they would respond to public-access requests for his footage.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said “the best evidence we have in a case is often from a body camera,” saying that footage of victim interviews has led to convictions in domestic violence cases.

That worked in the case of David L. Dixon. Last year, he admitted to Gardiner police Sgt. Todd Pilsbury that he had choked and “tried to kill” a woman.

Pilsbury was wearing a body camera. Dixon eventually was found guilty and sentenced to six months in jail. The footage, which the department provided to the Kennebec Journal for review, also showed an interview with the victim, who had visible red marks around her neck.

For Gove, the Gardiner officer, the cameras bring peace of mind.

“It takes away that gray area – that he-said, she-said. It’s black and white.”