Hamilton County deputies getting body cameras

Posted at 10:42 AM, Feb 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-27 18:13:26-05

CINCINNATI -- Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies will have a new piece of equipment in coming months -- body cameras.

Distribution of about 100 body cameras will begin the second week of June, according to Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil. Between 10 and 15 deputies will wear body cameras per shift.

TIMELINE: Embracing police body cameras in Cincinnati

The sheriff's office has limited its choice of vendors from seven down to two, Neil said, but he wouldn't name the vendors while the bidding process is still underway.

Deputies will test the two brands as early next week, and this trial period will span over the next two months.

The department tested the body cameras in Lincoln Heights last year when the U.S. Department of Justice granted nearly $140,000 in September 2015 as part of its $20 million Body-Worn Camera Pilot Implementation Program, which was launched in May 2015.

However, at the time, Neil was hesitant to commit to the program, citing the storage, maintenance and training associated with adopting body cameras.

The Sheriff’s Office received a $125,000 federal grant for the body cameras, which will cover the first year of use. The Board of County Commissioners approved funding of up to $150,000 Monday, according to the sheriff's office spokesperson Mike Robison. Public tax dollars will pay for another four years.

Mark Celsor, of Hamilton County, said he supports the idea of officers wearing body cameras. The cameras, he said, help to keep officers and citizens safe.

"I think that's something we should be spending tax dollars on,” Celsor said.

But Neil said funding and staffing could change in order to store and maintain the video.

"The costs associated with wearing the body cameras is the personnel that you're gonna need to redact the video,” Neil said. 

Cincinnati Police Department began issuing body cameras in Aug. 2016. 

"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.

The case against ex-University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing was based heavily on body camera footage, as admitted by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters. Tensing was charged with murder for a fatal traffic stop shooting in 2015; the shootings and moments leading up to it were caught on Tensing's issued body camera.

Last week, FOP President Sgt. Dan Hils told the WCPO I-Team that many officers are still skeptical of body camera usage.

"There is a general feeling amongst most street cops that even though these cameras will more often vindicate them of false accusations, they also recognize that if a situation goes bad ... they think that they might be judged in a Monday morning quarterback-type of a situation to where they won't be judged fairly," he said.

Cincinnati police officers are required to turn on their body-worn cameras for any contact with a person. Those encounters are often reduced to a few seconds of sight and sound.

Hils said a challenge is finding the balance between trusting public reaction to the video and supporting the department's commitment to transparency. Selective editing, for example, could cause a viewer to reach unfair conclusions.

"In general, it's something that (officers) don't necessarily have a full line of trust yet for the people who will be reviewing these things, and that goes all the way from police administration to city administration to society at large ... including the media," he said.

Timeline for HCSO adopting body cameras

  • March 1 -- Preferred vendors selected, field testing begins
  • End of April -- Complete field testing, notify winning vendor 
  • Early June -- Finalize contract with vendor 
  • Mid-June -- Receive body cameras, deputies begin wearing cameras in field