CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Police cameras have caught the best and the worst of law enforcement. They're an independent witness - a witness that's supposed to tell the public everything it needs to know when a cop is using one.
Sometimes they do. But, there are some things the camera can't record: things it can't see. And, a cop's gut feeling.
If not for a body-worn camera, Ray Tensing still might be patrolling the University of Cincinnati's main campus. Still writing tickets and making arrests
But, the July 19, 2015 traffic stop of Sam DuBose his body camera recorded could cause him to spend the rest of his life in prison. If he's convicted, that is.
"I can tell you categorically, if we did not have that body camera, there would not have been charges filed," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said, "That's just the reality of the situation."
Deters told reporters that in November, just minutes after a Hamilton County jury did not find Tensing guilty of the murder charge Deters sought. It was a murder charge Deters previously indicated he was sure to get.
The video showed DuBose putting his keys in the ignition during the stop, putting the car in drive and at some point the car sped away and Tensing shot DuBose in the head. Exactly when in that sequence Tensing fired and whether he was truly in fear for his life was the topic of much questioning by both sides in the November 2016 trial.
Tensing's jury hung on the murder charge. It also hung on the voluntary manslaughter charge.
The video, apparently, didn't provide the slam-dunk conviction Deters assured the DuBose family of following the July 2015 shooting death of DuBose during that traffic stop.
THE SECOND-LARGEST SHERIFF'S OFFICE HAS NO PLANS FOR CAMERAS
Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones and two of his deputies are mired in a federal civil rights lawsuit over Jones' department's video camera use. The lawsuit, among other allegations, claims deputies kept a dash camera tape a secret for more than a year and tampered with it before coming clean about its existence.
The sheriff's office told FOX19 NOW Investigative Reporter Jody Barr it does not use dash or body cameras. The sheriff's attorney also told Kevin Gray and his attorney the same thing back in July 2015, claiming the Butler County Sheriff's Office did not own any dash cameras.
That changed in February 2016, the first day of Gray's trail. Gray, charged with a minor traffic offense and OVI, wanted video from his traffic stop to show the jury—he says—to prove deputies lied about the allegations made against him and his passenger, who was charged with a felony.
After months of denying a video existed, Gray's brother overheard a conversation in the hallway outside of court the first day of trial. It was between Butler County Assistant Prosecutor David Kash, Deputy Mike Brockman and Deputy Jasen Hatfield, Gray said.
Following that conversation, Gray told FOX19 NOW his attorney forced the men to turn the dash camera video over. Gray was later acquitted of all charges Hatfield brought against him.
The Butler County Sheiff's Office has an operating budget of $32.6 million, second only to the $60.2 million Hamilton County Sheriff's budget.
Hamilton County is waiting on bids to purchase body cameras for deputies. The sheriff's office was about to purchase $1.6 million in cameras from Taser International, but had to call the deal off after failing to competitively bid the deal on Jan. 11, 2016.
Hamilton County does not have any dash cameras in its patrol cars, either, according to sheriff's spokesman Mike Robison. County commission records do not show any other body camera discussions regarding the sheriff's office after the January 2016 meeting.
Butler County is not pursuing any contracts to purchase dash or body cameras, according to Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer. Dwyer, in a Dec. 15 e-mail to FOX19 NOW, said "many unresolved issues" have kept his agency from pursuing recording equipment.
Those issues, according to Dwyer, are: determining the public's rights to the video records, coming up with a policy, privacy issues, data storage costs and "potential legislation," Dwyer wrote.
"We will continue to monitor these issues and will make decisions regarding the use of recording devices within our agency as these issues are vetted," Dwyer wrote.
Dwyer has not responded to a request for an interview on this matter.
HAVES AND HAVE NOTS
A FOX19 NOW analysis of 152 county and municipal law enforcement agencies in the 24 counties that comprise the Cincinnati television market shows most officers are armed with video recording devices in the Tri-State.
Our analysis looked at whether law enforcement agencies were using dash cameras, body cameras, a combination of both or none at all. We did not have our messages returned from these five agencies and cannot provide details on them:
-Morrow Police Department (Warren County, Ohio)
-Lynchburg Village Police Department (Clinton County, Ohio)
-Versailles Police Department (Ripley County, Indiana)
-Osgood Police Department (Ripley County, Indiana)
-Sunman Police Department (Ripley County, Indiana)
Of the 147 agencies we were able to contact, 88 used dash cameras. Body cameras were used by 41 law enforcement agencies in the Tri-State while 34 agencies used a combination of the two recording devices.
There are no recording devices used in 51 other agencies across the Tri-State.
Our analysis shows some agencies are moving completely away from dash cameras and relying upon body cameras alone for recording police contact with the public. Those agencies are:
-Oxford Police Department (Butler County, Ohio)
-Colerain Police Department (Hamilton County, Ohio)
-Elsmere Police Department (Kenton County, Kentucky)
-Ludlow Police Department (Kenton County, Kentucky)
-Crescent Springs Police Department (Kenton County, Kentucky)
-Bellevue Police Department (Campbell County, Kentucky)
-Bracken County Sheriff's Office (Bracken County, Kentucky)
There are still 35 percent of law enforcement agencies in the Tri-State using dash cameras, alone.
The Cincinnati Police Department is the best-equipped for recording police interactions with the public, our analysis found. In August 2016, CPD started arming officers with body cameras. CPD now has 660 body cameras across its five districts.
Those cameras captured 94,605 videos, totaling 17,200 hours of video being stored, according to a Jan. 23 memo from the city manager's office.
CPD could add another 300 body cameras in 2017, enough for every single officer who wears a CPD uniform. That was made possible by a taxpayer-funded grant of $600,000 from the Department of Justice, according to the city manager's office.
WE HAVE THEM, BUT AREN'T USING THEM
"I think it protects the officer, just as much as it does the public," Rising Sun Police Chief David Hewitt told Fox19 NOW.
His department purchased body cameras for his officers about eight months ago, but the cameras are still sitting inside the police department, unused. Hewitt's waiting on guidance from the state legislature on rules governing the privacy rights of people who might appear in a body camera or whose home and private property might be recorded from places that cannot be seen from a public right-of-way.
There's also the cost of storing the video and for how long. The retention time has not been defined by state lawmakers, either, Hewitt said.
"It's evidence. So, there has to be proper procedures in place. How you're going to handle it, how you're going to store it, the amount of time you're going to store it before you can go back and delete that," Hewitt said.
"Big agencies, they have civilian employees in charge of things like this and we have to do this all ourselves," Hewitt said.
Although the Rising Sun Police Department does not use its body cameras yet, the chief told FOX19 NOW there's no good reason a department that can use them, doesn't, "Everybody needs to be transparent. The public not only expects it, but demands that from its elected officials, appointed officers—and let's face it—law enforcement is the most visible branch of government and they want us to be transparent."
NORWOOD POLICE: SETTING A STANDARD?
If you're ever stopped by a Norwood Police officer, you can guarantee the stop will be captured by multiple cameras. Not only is Norwood's force armed with body cameras, their patrol cars have at least two other cameras recording.
"We've got the standard dash camera, plus one that shoots back into the car and another at the top of the windshield that captures a panoramic view of the entire front end of the car," Norwood Lt. Ron Murphy told FOX19 NOW.
The department's had dash cameras for decades, Murphy said, but started using body cameras full time in January 2015.
The department is one of the first to use body cameras in Hamilton County, Murphy said.
"This is a very important tool now in crime fighting. Getting convictions became a lot easier, in my opinion. I've always believed our word should be golden and in the last ten years or so, that's not necessarily the case," Murphy said.
The cameras have not only helped prove some of the crimes they've recorded, they've also helped Norwood Police brass investigate complaints made against officers.
Murphy said the only negatives, aside from costs, is the time it takes to maintain the cameras, the storage and compiling video from them for prosecutors, defense attorneys and for the public through the state's open records act.
"It literally takes about 60 percent of my work week now," Murphy said, "I don't see them going away. So, it's better to embrace it and like much technology, use it to our advantage."
"People want to see things on video. They want to—they require more proof nowadays and there's really nothing wrong with that, it's just a different standard we have to meet now," Murphy said.