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Police shooting reinforces body camera need

A police-involved shooting in Boardman Township this week provides just one more example of why all officers should be wearing body cameras.

According to police, Boardman officer Evan Beil shot Damian J. Cessna, 24, of West Boulevard, several times after Cessna approached the officer with a baseball bat and a knife. The officer had stopped when he saw Cessna riding a bicycle on the wrong side of the road at night.

After the shooting, Beil and several backup officers administered first aid at the scene. Cessna was taken to the hospital.

Now Beil is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation per department policy. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is handling the crime scene investigation and a separate review of the incident.

Coincidentally, just hours before the shooting occurred, Boardman Township trustees had approved the purchase of police body cameras, set to arrive in a couple months. For a township so large, with so much activity and one that is generally proactive, we admit we wonder why it has taken so long to get to this point. Still, we are glad to see the township is getting there, and we urge it to implement the plan and move forward with the camera purchases and use with increased urgency.

Likewise, we are pleased to see other local police organizations and local governments working to get their departments equipped with these important tools.

The Struthers Police Department went live with mandatory body cameras July 9. Following years of discussion and planning there, each of that department’s 16 full-time and two part-time officers now wears a body camera.

Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene has said, so far, about 50 Mahoning County sheriff’s deputies are equipped with body cameras.

In Youngstown, police and other city leaders on Thursday were scheduled to host a town hall meeting to discuss development of the city’s body camera program.

Indeed, police camera footage routinely is being released when use of force is implemented nationwide. As such, we all are increasingly more aware of the opportunities for validation and transparency the video footage presents.

For the sake of transparency and accountability, and for verification of statements from both police and the public, these cameras should be welcomed as just the latest tool in law enforcement. Camera usage should be adopted by all Valley police agencies.

Undoubtedly, investigators probing this week’s shooting in Boardman, including those at Ohio BCI, would have relied heavily on police camera footage to verify statements made by both parties, if it had existed. In this case, investigators will speak to the injured man. Although police say he was shot several times and remains hospitalized, he is alive and we expect will be able to recall the steps leading up to the shooting.

Of course, the officer also will be questioned, along with any other witnesses. And physical evidence has been recovered from the scene.

While all these things will be helpful to police, none of it could equal the amount of information that could have been garnered if police body cameras were rolling at the time.

As we previously have said in this space, some departments here and across the state have expressed opinions that they cannot afford to add the cameras. Frankly, we can’t afford NOT to add the cameras.

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

We must not delay.

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