CINCINNATI - For the first time, some Cincinnati police officers have an extra set of eyes.
The rollout of body cameras started Wednesday with the first cameras issued to officers in the Central Business District. By the end of the year, 700 will be issued, according to City Manager Harry Black.
The relatively small devices - about the size of a cell phone - come at a time when police shootings are making big news across the country and officers' actions are coming under more scrutiny.
"We're not afraid because we are proud of our officers and we know that they will act professionally," Mayor John Cranley said about the body camera rollout.
Police Chief Eliot Isaac said that in an ideal world they would have been in place before Sunday's fatal shooting on Government Square. But a surveillance camera showed what happened. Two officers in a patrol vehicle stopped to confront a robbery suspect, and the man lunged at one officer with a knife before he even got out of the driver's seat.
"It's Monday morning quarterbacking and it's hindsight, but moving forward we certainly want to be able to capture what we're able to," Isaac said.
It will be up to officers to record incidents. They have procedures on when they're supposed to be recording, including any call they're dispatched on.
At the end of their shift, the video will be downloaded to a server. Video of incidents will be treated like any other video evidence.
The cameras have been shown in some areas to reduce complaints against officers.
"Nobody likes people looking over their shoulder all the time. It's a natural tendency," Cranley said. "Our officers have embraced the basic concept you have a right to know what your government is doing."
Officers undergo training with the cameras, but some say it will take some time getting used to the cameras and hitting record.
"There's a lot that goes into this," said Isaac. "It's far more than just taking a camera out of a box and sticking it on an officer.
"We're going to have some bumps in the road with any piece of equipment. It's just one tool."
The city received an initial shipment of 44 Axon Body 2 model cameras and operating equipment from TASER International last Friday, Black said.
In addition to the first 700 cameras, the seven-year contract with TASER allows the city to purchase up to 350 additional cameras in 2017, contingent on the availability of funding, Black said.
The cost will not exceed $6 million over seven years, Black said.
Cameras will be deployed in phases across each police district. Delivery of cameras for the final district is expected in December.
The city plans to hire a minority-owned or women-owned business to do community outreach, Black said.
"As a part of the City’s contract with TASER, 13% of the contract fee in year one will be used for an MBE/WBE local professional engagement organization to assist CPD with community outreach and to elicit feedback about the program," Black wrote in a letter to the mayor and city council. "This will further the City’s goal of continuous improvement and focus on community policing."
The Body Worn Camera Program Policy and Procedure is posted on the city’s website. "We are asking interested parties to review the document and provide us with feedback via the electronic survey," Black said.
The rollout was originally scheduled to begin Aug. 1, but it was held up in contract negotiations between the city and TASER.