WARREN – All city police officers are required to wear body cameras while on duty and use them to record incidents whenever they interact with the public, unless there is a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, in accordance with city regulations.
The department developed and published its policy on the use of body cameras in April 2020, as the department began using an increasing number of body cameras.
The department has 34 body cameras, and three more on order with new police vehicles. Seven of the more recent body cameras were part of the police car purchase packages.
All new police vehicles purchased will include motor vehicle recorders and body cameras. The cameras of the motor vehicle and the body are synchronized together.
The newer cameras are purchased from a company called WatchGuard, while the 15 or so older Fastback body cameras were purchased from a company called L3.
The department has 15 older L3 body cameras that do not work with vehicle cameras. Older body cameras are between three and 10 years old.
Automotive recorders purchased with body cameras, which include upload and download stations, cost $ 7,880. Body cameras purchased individually with charging stations cost $ 2,100.
Last year Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced a $ 5 million program in which the state will provide funds to local law enforcement agencies to purchase body cameras. Prices are expected to be announced later this month, according to the governor’s office.
While the program targeted communities that did not have body camera programs, the governor’s announcement indicated that communities that already had body cameras could apply for the grants.
The Office of Criminal Justice Services of the Ministry of Public Security manages these grants. He’s still working on funding recommendations because he’s received $ 16 million in requests.
Warren bought all of his police cameras using money from the general fund.
“We did not apply for a body camera subsidy this year because we had already purchased enough” Police Chief Eric Merkel said. “But we’ll definitely be reviewing it when it comes out for 2022-2023.”
Youngstown announced last November that it would use nearly $ 1.3 million of its US bailout funds to purchase 100 body cameras and shock devices for its police department.
Struthers supplied body cameras to its 16 full-time agents and two part-time agents in July. Girard and Canfield Police Departments also have body cameras for their officers.
Images recorded on Warren’s cameras are uploaded to servers on-site at the police department. Recordings from cameras in police vehicles are uploaded via a Wi-Fi system to the city police department as the police cars drive through the underground parking lot of the city municipal building. Body camera recordings are uploaded when officers return the cameras to their cars.
Once the images are uploaded, they cannot be edited or altered. The images are kept on internal servers, not on remote servers.
“They all work” said Merkel. “Some people have problems here and there. We should phase out 11 out of 15 over the next few years and replace them. “
The service averages between five and 18 agents per shift each day, depending on which agents work overlapping shifts and which ones can also work outside working hours and still wear their body cameras. Agents working in ancillary positions are authorized to wear body cameras purchased by the city. Companies are not billed for their use.
However, depending on departmental policies, officers can check in when there is a pending arrest or search of homes or vehicles. Agents are not required to start or stop recordings only at the request of members of the public.
Officer safety is the primary concern when officers come into contact with the public or during vehicle stops, not the ability to record an event. Officers are encouraged to record enforcement checks, according to the ministry’s policy manual.
“When officers are unsure whether or not to record an incident, officers should activate body cameras to record the events.” policy notes.
If officers do not use their cameras because it would have made the situation unsafe, then they should notify their supervisor and document the reason for the delayed activation.
Body-worn cameras should be used in incidents which create a reasonable suspicion in the mind of a reasonable police officer that a crime has been committed, is being committed or will be committed in the future. “ policy manual notes.
“The camera must be activated whenever an officer sees a foul play or traffic accident in order to capture the events that led to the incident” policy report notes. “Cameras should not be turned off until a contact or investigative incident has been made. “
However, during a private conversation between an agent and his supervisor regarding an investigation, the camera may be turned off.
“If a victim or a witness does not wish to make a statement while the body camera is activated and the meeting is not confrontational, the camera can be deactivated” according to the policy. “As soon as the private conversation is over, the agent activates the camera and continues recording, as long as the situation still falls within the definition of the required use. “
When agents do not activate their body cameras or record the entire contact, they are required to document the reason the recordings were not made.
“Documenting the reasons for non-registration helps to maintain the transparency and accountability of the agency, provides surveillance control over registration irregularities for quality assurance, and explains the lack of such video footage for investigations and reviews. legal procedures “ according to department policies.
Merkel said body cameras so far have been particularly helpful in training department staff.