Hamilton Co. Sheriff's deputies set to wear body cams by end of March

LINCOLN HEIGHTS, Ohio — Most Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies will be wearing body cameras on duty by the end of March, and thanks to a pilot program in Lincoln Heights, taxpayers stand to save a bundle.

It was one year ago when two deputies assigned to patrol west side suburb Lincoln Heights began a test of the body cameras.

The test went so well that the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is buying more than 200 of them from Taser International, the same company that makes the famed stun guns. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil presented his plan to purchase the equipment Monday to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.

Deputy Nick Poole, one of the officers assigned to pilot the program, said the cameras are most effective because they bring an element of objectivity into law enforcement encounters.

“It’s an independent eye,” he said. “It’s not biased on one side or the other. I think it’s going to bring a lot of trust to law enforcement nationwide.”

Hamilton County is purchasing the newest generation Axon cameras from Taser using a combination of a federal grant and taxpayer dollars over the next 5 years.

The federal grant, from the Department of Justice, awarded the program nearly $140,000. Costs were further alleviated when Taser agreed to provide storage space for the video footage, saving the program — and taxpayers — more than $300,000 each year, according to Sgt. Steve Sabers.

“The redaction, the copying, storage on CDs, DVDs and having to transport it here and there, that’s where a lot of the agencies are running into problems.”

And the prosecutor’s office will get a real-time link to that storage space.

“We’ll be able to take essentially a report that we take, any video evidence, any photographic evidence and put it into one combined file,” Sabers said.

Poole said he thinks it’s just a matter of time before every law enforcement agency in the U.S. is using body cameras.

“I feel that a majority of the population would like to see body cameras, and if we’re in the job of public service then we have the duty to get them,” he said.

The conversation surrounding body cameras gained sharp local relevance when then-University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing shot and killed motorist Sam DuBose during a traffic stop on July 19. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said without Tensing’s body camera footage, “it would have been a very different case."

The weeks and months to come would see a number of local agencies voicing a desire to obtain the technology but scrambling to put together a logistical and financial plan to implement it.

Cincinnati city leaders hoped a body camera program for their police department would launch by the end of 2015, but it seems a rollout in winter or spring of 2016 is more likely.

The Ohio State Legislature is working on a new set of laws that would work to regulate how this new technology is used by law enforcement and how it plays into issues of public record versus privacy laws.

WCPO's Taylor Mirfendereski, Joe Rosemeyer, and John Genovese contributed to this report.