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Struthers police don body cameras for security, accountability

STRUTHERS — A new layer of transparency has been added to a local police department.

The Struthers Police Department went live with mandatory body cameras Friday.

Each of the department’s 16 full-time officers now wears the body cameras, as well as the two part-time officers.

Police Chief Tim Roddy said the move to body cameras has been considered and researched for a long time.

“We’ve been working toward this for years,” he said. “It was the right time to get it done.”

Over the two months or so leading up to the body cameras, Roddy began to get feedback from his officers and used the information to shape department protocol for the technology.

Roddy researched pricing and scheduled demonstrations, ultimately deciding on the one the department uses, which he said is cost efficient and reliable.

The city budgeted $45,000 for the gear and software, which is backed up to a server. A grant is being sought to offset the cost, Roddy said.

There is a five-year commitment with an upgrade halfway through the contract, Roddy said.

The feature he said he likes best allows for playback, providing for more accurate reports.

Officer Jeremy Cramer likes that option as well, as it will help with accuracy in high-stress situations.

“These will provide an opportunity to show” an instance of how each response plays out, Cramer said, in the event a citizen remembers incidents differently.

The units also have a GPS tracking ability, said Tim Daly, the city’s safety director.

The cameras are programmed to record one minute retroactively when the “record” button is clicked. Dispatchers also will be able to view what is happening in live time should the officer hit another button, Roddy said.

Rather than the cameras being attached to the officer’s person by a wire or cord, they are magnetic so if a citizen pulls them, the camera comes right off without pulling the officer, Daly said.

The cameras work in conjunction with the department’s policy, Roddy said.

“This will help us provide a level of accountability,” not only with officers but citizens, he said. “So far, there hasn’t been negative feedback.”

Until Friday, officers were able to use the cameras at their own leisure to familiarize themselves with the equipment.

A few times people called and complained about officers’ conduct, after which Roddy reviewed the footage and discussed the complaints with the residents.

Officers are expected to hold themselves to a standard by remaining professional and calm, Roddy said.

“This helps cement that,” Daly added.

The Struthers officers have been willing to wear the cameras to show they follow department policy, Roddy said.

Even the chief wears one when he’s out working the beat. “If I want the officers to do it, I have to follow those same guidelines,” Roddy said.

The body cameras add to ways the city administration and law enforcement are working to keep residents safe, Roddy said.

This year also has seen a kickoff of a texting emergency-alert system, to which 1,800 people as of Friday are subscribed.

Officers are encouraged to perform business checks as well as to engage with residents “at all times,” Roddy said.

afox@vindy.com

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