Butler County sheriff resisted bodycams for years, then state offered $5M grant

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 4:43 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2021 at 4:56 PM EDT
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HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones says he’s not the mask police, the vaccine police or the body camera police.

Now, one of those things might be changing thanks to Gov. Mike DeWine.

The governor prioritized the creation of the new Ohio Body-Worn Camera Grant Program in the state’s 2022-2023 operating budget that lawmakers passed in June. It earmarks $5 million in state grant funding to help law enforcement agencies with costs related to camera equipment, video storage, public record management personnel, and more.

Both DeWine and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost included body cameras when they announced new efforts in Ohio for meaningful law enforcement reform.

Sheriff Jones has resisted body cameras for years, saying his budget couldn’t handle the cost to store all the video and staffing to monitor it. And he’s certainly no fan of them to begin with anyway.

“I actually trust my deputies. I trust law enforcement,” he told FOX19 NOW earlier this year. “How I even find anybody to be a deputy sheriff or to work in law enforcement with today’s atmosphere is unbelievable with all that’s going on in the country, all the attacks on law enforcement for just doing their jobs and trying to go home alive at the end of their shift.”

That aside, the veteran politician and law enforcement executive says he thinks it’s inevitable all law enforcement will soon be required, either by state or federal officials, to wear body cameras.

“Do I think that cameras are great and wonderful and create transparency? No. Absolutely not,” Sheriff Jones told FOX19 NOW Thursday.

“The community still likes and trusts the police around here and believes the police. I don’t need any cameras to prove that. We can do that with our past history and have been. But this is going to be required eventually anyway so if they are going to be offering funding we may as well take advangage of it. I can’t half do it. If they are going to fund it, they’re going to have to pay for all of it.”

The sheriff’s office asked Butler County Commissioners to approve a funding request to the state for about $250,000, Jones said.

That will pay for 90 to 100 cameras for deputies. Two positions will be created to review and store the footage.

“Body cameras are beneficial for peace officers and the public because they act as impartial eyes on events as they transpire, but most law enforcement agencies in Ohio don’t have them because they can’t afford them,” Gov. DeWine said in a prepared statement.

“One of my top priorities has always been ensuring that our law enforcement officers have the tools they need to best serve the public, and this new grant program will help eliminate the cost barriers associated with body-worn cameras and will contribute to a safer Ohio.”

The Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services (OCJS), which administers the new grant program, began accepting applications last month.

The use of body cameras is not mandated in Ohio. It is estimated that up to two-thirds of all law enforcement agencies in the state, primarily Ohio’s smaller agencies, do not outfit their officers with cameras due to equipment and video storage costs, according to the governor’s office.

The Ohio Body-Worn Camera Grant Program will prioritize funding for agencies that have not yet established a body-worn camera program, however, agencies with existing programs are also encouraged to apply.

Funding awards will be flexible to meet agencies’ individual needs and is contingent on adherence to the Ohio Community-Police Collaborative’s body-worn camera standard.

Agencies not yet certified in the standard will have a pre-award condition requiring certification prior to the grant funds being released.

Law enforcement agencies applying for the grant must also be in compliance with crime statistics reporting, using the Ohio Incident-Based Reporting System (OIBRS) or the FBI’s NIBRS Collection Application (NCA).

A total of $10 million has been allotted to the Ohio Body-Worn Camera Grant Program as part of the 2022-2023 operating budget.

The remainder of the grant funds will be available next year.

“I commend the Sheriff for his interest in body cameras and that he is exploring a grant for this purpose,” Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said.

“Unlike many municipal police departments, the sheriff has a necessarily large number of patrol officers and thus a large number of cameras that would be required. Also, unlike smaller agencies, his retention requirements would be much greater and require additional expense.

“I appreciate his cost-minded approach and because of the quality of his officers there is little need for the benefits body cameras will bring. Of course, in any questionable case, more is usually better and a picture is usually worth a thousand words. I am sure that is what the sheriff is considering.

“I also know that body cameras bring public information requests that are a burden because of the need to review the recordings for material that is exempt from production to protect the public. That requires additional trained staff. I have suggested that a targeted approach may be better for now that would use such devices only in critical incidents (officer involved shootings) where the SWAT Team is used.

“The downside of use by all officers is that there becomes a dependency on the results that may not always be possible and leave an unjustifiable hole in a valid case. Thus, the mere absence of a camera for a valid reason may become a basis to defeat a valid prosecution. Over dependency on technology can become a problem for both me and the sheriff so it’s not just an economic issue.”

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