Falmouth Police Department wants to add body cameras and patrol car cameras and arm each of its 23 officers with stun guns in response to an increase in “high conflict calls.”

Police Chief John Kilbride told the town council last week that, in the 1990s, his department received about five high-conflict calls a month. That number is now two to three a day. High-conflict calls may involve mental health-related or drug-related situations, threats of suicide and distraught youth.

One of Falmouth Police Department’s current Tasers that will be replaced if the department’s spending request is approved. Contributed / Falmouth Police Department

Five group homes for adults with developmental disabilities opened in Falmouth in the last two years, Kilbride said, and police have had to frequently respond to calm patients. The ongoing COVID pandemic, increased drug and alcohol use and other social issues also have contributed to the increased call volume.

The department this year has set up a tracking system to record all mental health-related calls and incidents involving marijuana.

“Over the past year and a half, there’s been a change in the law enforcement environment, not only in this state, but across the country,” Kilbride said. “There’s a higher expectation from the public from their law enforcement. Citizens want their police departments to have greater transparency. In the last year and a half to two years, our officers are also coming forward and welcoming this technology.”

The patrol cameras and stun guns are part of a five-year plan with Axon, a company that supplies equipment for law enforcement. The cost is about $58,000 per year, totaling just under $289,000 over five years.

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Cumberland entered into a similar contract in December.

Falmouth Town Council will vote on the proposal April 25.

Jennifer Wahlig, a member of the incident review team that was formed after a fatal police shooting in October 2021, said she supports the department’s request for cameras. Daniel DiMillo, 51, was killed by two Falmouth police officers who responded to a report of man armed with a knife running in circles at the intersection of Lunt and Middle roads Oct. 19.

“The review team strongly recommends the Falmouth Police Department purchases and deploys a video and audio system,” Wahlig told the council. “These systems will not only benefit the Falmouth police in their day-to-day activities and investigations but will bring more transparency to the actions of the officers.”

The department shares seven stun guns. The new program would issue stun guns and body cameras to all 23 officers.

All eight patrol vehicles would be equipped with backseat cameras that would activate automatically when the rear doors are opened.

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Kilbride said on average, officers see four people a year that become combative and attempt to kick out the rear windows during transport.

All officers would be required to use body cameras for the duration of their shift. The cameras would be manually activated before every interaction with a member of the public and the officer would inform them they were being recorded. Exceptions could be made upon request by a victim of a crime or by someone who has “a reasonable expectation of privacy,” such as in an instance of sexual assault, or when an officer is speaking to someone who is anonymously reporting a crime, according to the department’s proposal.

A new state law put in place in the last year requires all witnesses in felony crimes to have their interviews recorded. Previously, only suspects had to have their interviews recorded. At the town council meeting, Lt. Jeffrey Pardue said the department is currently using handheld recorders.

“That is another task for a responding officer, to have to conduct an interview using a handheld recorder,” Pardue said. “Their first priority is to make sure the scene is safe and secondarily, when they go back to collect a witness statement, they have to return to their cruiser, get the recorder, bring that back to the department and download that recording and secure it in evidence station,” Pardue said. “By outfitting our officers with body-worn cameras, that initial interview becomes a lot more seamless and allows us to meet that state statute requirement in a more congruent fashion.”

Kilbride said those with concerns or questions can call or email him at [email protected] or (207) 781-2300.

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