Push underway to get CPD body cameras sooner

Posted at 4:18 AM, Sep 12, 2015

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati police officers are likely to get body cameras sooner than expected, but not as soon as some city council members might like.

Vice Mayor David Mann and four other City Council members are calling for a department-wide body camera program to be in place by the end of the year.

That's well ahead of the summer 2016 rollout detailed by city administrators a few weeks ago.

Police body cameras have come into intense focus -- and become a top city priority -- since Ray Tensing, at the time a University of Cincinnati police officer, shot and killed unarmed motorist Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati's Mt. Auburn neighborhood July 19. Footage from Tensing's body camera is widely credited for leading to his murder indictment for DuBose's death. Tensing, who was fired from his job the day he was indicted, remains free on bond as he awaits his trial.

In light of DuBose's death, Mann, along with council members Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach, PG Sittenfeld and Charlie Winburn, think next summer is too far off, especially considering the discussion started in December last year.

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"A timeline that asks us to wait ten more months, nearly two years from when the city first began this process, is just not fast enough," a statement from the five elected officials says.

Click here to read Vice Mayor Mann's motion

Councilman Christopher Smitherman, chairman of City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee, said he's talked with Mann, and they've agreed on a more aggressive timeline -- just not by Dec. 31.

"I think sometime first quarter of next year -- that's what I really believe is going to happen," Smitherman said. "We've talked about next summer, but ultimately I think it's going to be sometime in the first quarter next year."

Sgt. Ryan Smith, with the Cincinnati Police Department's Inspections Unit, outlined all of the hurdles and complications that have to be worked out.

Hardware and Software

A group of District 3 officers, on the city's West Side, tested out two separate systems, the TASER AXON body camera and the VieVu LE3 body camera.

Both had positives and negatives: The TASER system worked better in low light and had a wider viewing angle, but the audio and video were subpar overall. It also can't be worn with the CPD's uniform tie or jacket, and the wider viewing angle came at the expense of depth perception. Smith wrote that officers found it to be bulky and challenging to turn on, and its cloud-based system made it slower to copy and review videos.

MORE: Big increase in body camera sales

The VieVu system had better audio and video quality, and its local storage meant instant playback of videos. It was also cheaper per unit, and officers and supervisors preferred it to the TASER system. But on the other hand, the VieVu didn't perform as well in low light and had a narrower viewing angle.

Public Records Requests and Privacy Concerns

With 600 officers creating potentially one to two hours of recorded video per day each, "CPD cannot possibly review or release every [body camera] recorded video," the department said.

It went on to warn: "Other police agencies have curtailed their interest or been forced to cancel existing [body camera] programs because of records requests for all police agency recorded [body camera] videos."

There's no state precedent that addresses the right for the public to access body camera footage in Ohio, and there's no requirement for police departments to use them.

State Rep. Kevin Boyce, D-Columbus, said he has plans this summer to introduce Ohio's first legislation to address body cameras.

"This has been a deep point of conversation on a legal front and a practical front. We know the media wants access as soon as they can get it, but in many cases there are legal implications that we want to be sensitive to. We are working on what we believe to be a compromise that leans on the side of protecting the process — the legal process," he said.

The legislation, which he hasn't drafted yet, would require all police officers in Ohio to wear body cameras and also would address the issue of body camera footage retention.

There are also privacy concerns: Police staff might need to redact video recorded in someone's home, or blur the faces of crime victims.

Warren County Prosecutor David P. Fornshell raised similar concerns in early August.

MORE: Prosecutor raises privacy concerns with body cams

In An Ideal World...

Ultimately, the department hopes it can get the equipment it wants married with software that would let staff virtually redact footage and share recorded videos online, similar to Dropbox.

Smith recommended five groups work on different aspects of the department's body camera project, focused on:

  1. Operations, such as when to record
  2. Data management, including who has access to the videos
  3. Officers' concerns and getting their buy-in
  4. Equipment specifications
  5. Understanding and managing expectations from residents, City Council and Mayor John Cranley

Smitherman said the end goal is making residents and police officers feel safer knowing that the cameras are in use.

"It really protects our officers," Smitherman said. "It gives the public comfort, but it gives our officers comfort."

That mirrors what Smith detailed in his presentation: Research shows some police departments have reported a 50 to 60 percent reduction in officers' use of force and a 60 to 80 percent drop in citizen complaints after deploying body cameras.

Click here for CPD's presentation on body cams