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YPD must stay on course for body cameras

As longtime proponents of the public-safety value of body cameras worn by law enforcement officers, we eagerly await their arrival and deployment in the Youngstown Police Department.

Considering that about two-thirds of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies in this country now mandate their use, according to U.S. Justice Bureau statistics, the YPD enters the era of body cameras as standard uniform elements a bit late in the game.

Nonetheless, we’ve been very pleased that YPD Chief Carl Davis, at the helm of the 170-member department since only January, has made body cameras a top priority to implement this year. He’s followed through on that pledge with swift concrete actions — appointing Detective Sgt. Jose Morales to handle oversight and implementation of the program and carefully reviewing a variety of possible vendors of cameras.

As of last week, the city had contacted four vendors — BodyWorn, G-Tech Solutions, Motorola and Axon. So far, given Morales’ comments at a recent city council meeting, Axon may have an edge. He called that company’s cameras “very impressive” and noted the company has sold body cameras to 60 percent of the top 1,200 police departments across the country.” He added the Akron Police Department, which recently began wearing body cameras, has had pleasant experiences with Axon.

Axon’s cost appears to fall midrange (about $500,000) in those vendors that Morales reviewed, and while cost must always be considered for purchases on the public dime, the ability of the camera to perform its intended task as effectively and efficiently as possible must be weighed heavily as well. Such comparison shopping can take time.

Once the intended purchase is made, more time, talent and energy must be invested in drafting a fair and uniform policy for wearing and using cameras, one that is clear and understandable for all on duty. Then, of course, more time must be invested in training officers how to wear them and operate them properly throughout their shifts.

Clearly, then, no snap judgments can be made, but neither can this game-changing addition to the Valley’s largest police force endure any more needless delays.

The long-term benefits of police cameras far outweigh any short-term delays in implementation. By wearing a camera, police officers are incentivized to behave less aggressively and more respectfully when interacting with individuals on their beats. In turn, community members often feel less intimidated and more prone to interact with police with less fear and greater respect.

As a result, overall police-community relations can then develop more cooperation and less confrontation.

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