Columbus Police officials say the process of equipping officers with body cameras is ahead of schedule and should be completed by early summer.
In 2015, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther proposed all Columbus Division of Police patrol officers should have body cameras. But by the end of 2016, only 12 officers had them.
City officials said it would take three years to get cameras for Columbus’s 1,400 officers. As of the end of March, more than 850 officers are currently equipped with them, according to city officials.
The project is being completed under budget, according to assistant director of public safety George Speaks.
Speaks said the Columbus Police Training Academy expedited training on how to operate the cameras using instructional videos.
The emergence of police body cameras has fueled debate regarding what camera footage is and is not public record. A Statehouse bill proposed in 2016, HB 585, would have created several exemptions to public records laws for body cameras.
Under the proposal, footage displaying the insides of private homes, private businesses or victims of sex crimes would not be considered public record. That bill has been stuck in committee, though.
Currently, officers are instructed to turn on cameras during any interaction with the public, after which the cameras retroactively capture footage from 60 seconds before being activated, but without sound.
Columbus Police has been criticized for the soundless retroactive recordings, however, particularly after the shooting of Kareem Jones in Franklinton on July 7, 2017. The body camera video, which was recorded during the lag in which audio was not available, showed two officers exiting a cruiser with guns drawn and Jones’ hands going in the air. When Jones reaches behind his back, officers fire, killing him.
But Jones’ family says they’ll never know the truth about the situation because of the lack of sound. They filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Columbus, arguing the city is liable for Jones’ death and that Columbus Police maintain practices and policies that allow for unreasonable force.
A Columbus police union official said the officers have become accustomed to using the cameras.
The city of Akron has also equipped all officers with body cameras, with the help of a federal grant.