Civil rights concerns as cops gear up with body cams - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Civil rights concerns as cops gear up with body cams

Cincinnati Police Sgt. Ryan Smith shows the body camera device the department tested last year. (FOX19 NOW/file) Cincinnati Police Sgt. Ryan Smith shows the body camera device the department tested last year. (FOX19 NOW/file)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Nearly three dozen national advocacy groups are proposing several rules they want police agencies to follow when they adopt the use of body cameras.

Meantime, Cincinnati Police continue to explore plans to outfit officers with body-worn cameras after what Chief Jeffrey Blackwell called the “success” of a pilot program last year. 

The advocacy groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union and chapters of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, announced Friday so-called "civil rights principles" they say would help ensure that the cameras provide accountability and transparency to the public.

The groups suggest that police develop their camera policies in public with input from community members and to consult with the public on any further changes. They say footage should be released with appropriate privacy safeguards. And they note that police officers should be prohibited from viewing footage before filing their reports.

"Footage of an event presents a partial — and sometimes misleading — perspective of how events unfolded," they wrote. "Pre-report viewing could cause an officer to conform the report to what the video appears to show, rather than what the officer actually saw."

As police departments across the country adopt body cameras, their policies have frequently lagged behind and received less scrutiny than the technology.

Lt. Barbara Young of the Cincinnati Police Inspections Unit told FOX19 Now there are currently no Cincinnati police officers wearing body-worn cameras. For three months last fall, District 3 and third shift officers tested cameras from two manufacturers.

During a presentation to Cincinnati City Council after the completion of the pilot program, Blackwell said he hoped to outfit all 600 officers in uniform with the technology.

“First it increases our transparency and it increases our professionalism. Complaints on officers go down somewhere between 65 and 80 percent,” Blackwell said.

He also told council members a policy is being created to determine how often the camera footage will be stored and logistics, like when the cameras would be turned on.

Despite Blackwell's rave reviews of body cameras, he admitted then that there are some issues that will need to be considered.

“You absolutely do not want your officers to find a button or turn something on when every moment may count. So I don't want my officers to divert their attention away from a suspect or a high profile deadly scenario because they feel the need to turn the camera on,” he said.

Then there are the questions of how to pay for the devices and how video footage would be stored.

The Obama Administration said it would allocate $20 million in grants for police departments to buy body cameras. House Republicans this week proposed setting aside $15 million for the technology.

It will cost the city between $500,000 to $1.8 million to implement a body camera program for the department. 

Blackwell hoped to get half of the cost covered by the federal government. He traveled to Washington D.C. last December to make the request. So far, there is no word if any federal dollars were secured.

Once Cincinnati police finalizes plans and funding, officers will could be wearing the cameras within a month or two.

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