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Importance of body cameras keeps growing

Following Derek Chauvin’s conviction in George Floyd’s homicide, along with new video footage released of recent police-involved shootings in Columbus, Chicago, Minnesota and, sadly, many others, we all should anticipate and welcome more passionate discussion about the addition of police body cameras.

We believe strongly that elected government officials, local police chiefs and the county sheriff should be making a commitment to finding ways to add body cameras to their law enforcement tools and to improve transparency.

That’s why we are so pleased to see police organizations and local government like the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, Youngstown police and others working to find ways to ensure their departments will be equipped with these important tools.

Indeed, some departments here and across the state have expressed opinions that they cannot afford to add the cameras.

Frankly, we believe they cannot afford NOT to add the cameras.

According to Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene, so far, about 50 Mahoning County sheriff’s deputies have been equipped with body cameras. Large cities like Warren and Youngstown also are in the process of instituting body camera programs, despite ongoing financial struggles.

In many cases, local police departments have committed to seeking available grant money for startup costs and then managing finances to build the fixed legacy expenses into their budgets.

But just like other fixed expenses that police departments face, a commitment to the program — one that other departments are making — is required.

In Mahoning County, Greene said video data retention costs for each of his department’s 50 cameras is about $55 per month, totaling about $33,000 per year.

Undoubtedly, body camera programs are expensive and can increase police budgets demonstrably not just in up-front, initial expenses, but in ongoing legacy costs for video storage over time.

But what about the cost of NOT having the cameras?

The body camera void surfaced recently in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court when an attorney sought video evidence for a case involving shots fired at a Warren police officer and a deputy.

Attorney John Juhasz said he received dash camera video from the Warren police cruiser involving shots allegedly fired by his client Mehki Walker on Oct. 17, 2020, during a chase along west-side streets in Warren.

“I assumed that the sheriff’s office would also have video,” Juhasz said.

However, court officials soon learned no such video evidence existed from the cruiser of deputy Ken Romo. The windshield of Romo’s cruiser was shattered during the incident, reports show.

The Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office does not have body or dash camera vehicles for its officers.

According to American opinion poll website FiveThirtyEight, cities across the U.S. in just the past decade alone have spent in excess of $3 billion to settle police misconduct lawsuits.

The fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 fueled a rapid uptick of body cameras, and by 2016, nearly half of U.S. law enforcement agencies were using the devices. Police misconduct settlements have increased steadily since 2015. As police continue to adopt and wear the cameras, there will be a deluge of video evidence to hold officers to account.

The videos may serve to clear an officer or a suspect, or it may present evidence of guilt for either party.

Most of all, though, the cameras create a form of transparency that is critical in this time of divisiveness and questions about police incidents across our nation.

editorial@vindy.com

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