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Columbus, Ohio, Police Body Cameras Test Reveals Glitches

After an incident where an officer's camera was pulled off when jumping out of his car to respond to a situation, questions have been raised about effectiveness and cost.

by Theodore Decker, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio / October 23, 2015
Police departments around the country have been adopting body cameras over the last few years. Now school district administrators are creating policies to use them on campus. David Kidd

(TNS) -- Members of a mayoral committee charged with weighing the pros and cons of equipping 1,900 Columbus police officers with body cameras began their task today by sampling the technology for themselves.

In the committee’s first meeting at the Columbus Police Division’s academy on the West Side, the nine members and some support staff donned eyeglass-mounted cameras.

They then participated in several police-training scenarios meant to depict some of the hot-button topics surrounding use of the cameras, including controversial police-involved shootings and potential invasions of privacy.

Perhaps the most revealing illustration wasn’t planned. When Ivan King, an employee with the city’s Department of Technology, leapt from his police cruiser to rush to the aid of an officer being held at gunpoint, the camera was yanked off him when the transmitter wire snagged on the car door.

The camera fell to the training-room floor, recording only skewed footage of a wall and more significantly, the sound of gunfire moments later.

“Did you do it on purpose?” Columbus Public Safety Director George Speaks asked.

“No,” replied King, who then added, “I don’t think so.”

That specter of conspiracy raised by an honest glitch is only a small piece of the debate when it comes to equipping officers with the cameras.

“There are three main hurdles that the committee needs to overcome,” Speaks said. In a study expected to take several months, the committee will recommend how the city will use the cameras, protect people’s privacy and pay for the technology.

Mayor Michael B. Coleman has pledged to have all city police officers equipped with the cameras by the end of 2016. Mayoral candidate Andrew Ginther supports that position. Opponent Zach Scott has questioned the cost for them and how they’d be used.

Today's session included an overview of the technology and some scenarios meant to illustrate what officers encounter on the street. Future sessions will involve the review of best-practice policies, a public comment session, and a range of viewpoints provided by guest speakers.

The nine members are Bo Chilton, who works for IMPACT Community Action; Columbus police Sgt. Kyle Erdeljac, with the Fraternal Order of Police; local business owner Gale Hill; Margot Kaminski, an Ohio State University law professor; Karla Rothan, with Stonewall Columbus; Abdikhayr Soofe, a member of the Community Relations Commission; Robert Stewart, assistant director with the Columbus Department of Public Safety; Columbus Police Cmdr. Robert Strausbaugh; and C. Dexter Wise III, a pastor with the Faith Ministries Church.

Joining them are six support staffers: King; Speaks; city prosecutor Lara Baker-Morrish; police legal adviser Jeff Furbee; attorney Gail Patrick; and City Council senior legal adviser Kate Pishotti.

Speaks told the committee members that they would delve first into privacy issues raised by the cameras. Among the questions: Can a citizen ask an officer to turn it off? What if footage captures something legal but embarrassing in someone’s home? Or images of horrific violence? Should an officer be permitted to review footage before writing reports?

The committee won’t be buying any cameras or bargaining with the police union, but it will be charting the course to that point, Speaks said.

“They will do great wonders for accountability and transparency,” he said.

Members said they especially found the session valuable because of it highlighting privacy issues and other pitfalls.

“These are life-and-death situations every single minute of every single day,” Rothan said said.

Body cameras are “particularly important,” she said. “It’s important for Columbus to get it right.”

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 5.

©2015 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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