A local Connecticut police department tried using a hidden camera to catch a thief, but criticism over where they put it led to an independent investigation and changes in how they treat their own female officers.
The investigation report, obtained by NBC Connecticut Investigates, still pointed out several problems.
This past August an officer at the Wethersfield Police Department believed someone had gone through belongings in her gym bag in the women’s locker room.
While the department immediately launched an investigation, it’s how it was done that caused concerns.
A report by the Marcum Advisory Group, a national firm that conducts independent investigations of law enforcement agencies, says Wethersfield Police put a small surveillance camera inside the women’s locker room to try to catch a custodian suspected of going through an officer’s bag and leaving her underwear outside a zippered pocket.
Police never got any evidence from what the Marcum Advisory Group called an “…aggressive investigative measure…”, but its use in a locker room, while allowed by law for the purpose of a criminal investigation, angered female officers.
Wethersfield Police Chief James Cetran told NBC Connecticut Investigates, “there’s a lot of things that we learned from this.”
He says the female officers were told in advance that detectives would use a camera in the locker room, but not the precise times.
The bigger issue, according to the Marcum Advisory Group, was that the female officer who was the victim and made the original complaint, on several occasions, on her own, placed the camera in the women’s locker room and recorded.
“There’s been times when we’ve actually had victims do certain things for us, in the real world. We’ve wired up victims to talk to people, and get information,” Cetran explained. But as far as having a crime victim set up a surveillance camera for detectives Cetran said, “That was not authorized, that’s all I can say about it.”
One of the department’s female officers was concerned the hidden locker room camera might have recorded her showering.
The Marcum Advisory Group concluded though that that was unlikely.
The custodian accused of going through the officer’s belongings was fired and arrested. He did not admit to rummaging through her gym bag, but did confess he stole toilet paper and a pair of sunglasses from the women’s locker room.
None of the female officers wanted to comment to NBC Connecticut Investigates. The police union president did not respond to multiple messages we left on his work phone.
The interim town manager tells NBC Connecticut Investigates the department now has card key access only to the women’s locker room, and procedures will be put in place to better control how the police department’s surveillance equipment is used. The department will also start initiatives in the near future to have better communication with its female officers.