New Ohio Law Could Boost Body Camera Adoption, Agency Costs

A recently enacted law adds clarity to the rules around body camera footage as public record — something that has been a deterrent for smaller departments — but the changes will likely come with costs.

by Denise G. Callahan, Journal-News Hamilton / June 28, 2019
Shutterstock/Collins Media KS

(TNS) — A new Ohio law specifying what video collected by police body cameras is a public record has been welcomed by area departments that use them because of the clarity it provides, but the preparation of that video for public dispersal could add costs.

Many Butler County police departments and the sheriff have shied away from body cameras because of the cost and the uncertainty about what needs to be retained as a record, what should or cannot be redacted and other privacy issues.

A new law took effect in April that identifies 17 instances in which video recorded by body camera is exempt from disclosure. Among them are:

  • Inside a residence unless the incident involves “an adversarial encounter with, or a use of force by, a peace officer”
  • Showing children
  • A death or dead body, unless it was caused by a peace officer
  • A nude body, unless the person consents
  • “Grievous” bodily harm to a peace officer, firefighter, paramedic or other first responder

West Chester Twp. started using body cameras in December 2017 after five years of study. Chief Joel Herzog said he welcomes the new law because it clearly spells out that private citizens should be protected.

“The whole idea behind this bill was the fact they want to be transparent, if there’s police force used it’s still transparent,” he said. “However they don’t want to take away the privacy of the everyday citizen on normal events.”

Fairfield Police Chief Steve Maynard said what goes on between the police and private citizens in their homes should not be available for public consumption.

“Our body cams are rolling, we walk into your house, to deal with your kid’s acting up, whatever it may be, but we’re in your house, everything’s captured, from the condition of your house, if it’s a little messy that day or you’re (having) personal issues or you’re having with your kid or your husband,” he said. “That’s all public record, and quite frankly, I don’t think that’s fair.”

Maynard said there is a potential drawback to the new law because departments may need extra staff to do the redacting that is now necessary. His budget for body cams is $150,000 per year.

West Chester has a five-year contract for a total of $151,999 for 50 cameras, and the trustees just approved the purchase of another 10 units for $22,733 to outfit school resource officers. Herzog has a staffer dedicated to working with the camera program.

Fairfield, Miami University, Monroe, New Miami, Oxford and West Chester Twp. police departments have body cameras in the county. The Butler County Sheriff’s Department would need about 90 cameras, and Chief Tony Dwyer said it doesn’t plan to get body cameras anytime soon.

“Body cameras is kind of a hot topic and we’ve discussed it, we’ve discussed the pros and the cons and the laws and the additional money and additional work to redact videos,” Dwyer said. “At this point we’re not moving forward with body cameras.”

Hamilton has dash cameras in every cruiser and has been studying body cameras for a number of years. Police Chief Craig Bucheit said officials have received several quotes, and the technology is ever-evolving. There are costs for the equipment and personnel and considerations for storage and redacting.

“It’s a very complicated, multi-faceted decision and I know when the time is right we’re going to move forward,” he said. “I think body cameras will be a standard piece of police equipment at some point in the future, and certainly the Hamilton Police Department will have that technology.”

Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said that “we will research them for the 2020 budget to see if it is workable.”

Ross Twp. Police Chief Darryl Haussler is looking at cameras that would cost $27,774 over five years for six cameras. He said if he weren’t retiring this year he “would do all I can to fit them into next year’s budget.”

Even with the new law, Trenton’s Police Chief Arthur Scott isn’t ready — they do have the money — to proceed.

“It’s really fraught with a number of unknowns that I’m being very careful about,” he said.

Oxford Police Chief John Jones’s officers have been wearing cameras since the beginning of last year. He said they haven’t received as many public records requests as he thought they might. The cameras in his estimation have had an added benefit of more accurate police reports, although they take a little longer if the officers are are going back to check the footage.

©2019 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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