City Officials Share Possible Regulations For Police Body Cameras

May 25, 2016

As part of Mayor Andrew Ginther’s efforts to implement police body cameras by the end 2016, city officials have come up with proposals for how the cameras would be used and regulated.

By looking at the mistakes and successes of other US cities, Director of Public Safety George Speaks, says they’ve developed an up-to-speed policy that's unique to Columbus.

“We have one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the county,” said Speaks. “We have many folks who are not first responders, who have secondary type jobs. For example we have 20 helicopter pilots. They will not be interacting with the public.”

Speaks, who chaired the Mayor’s committee on body camera policy, says that only 1,432 out of 1,827 law enforcement officers will be issued cameras. And they will not be required to keep those cameras rolling 24/7. Speaks said officers will be required to turn them on only while enforcing the law.

“Any use of force. Anytime that an encounter will become adversarial. All of those would be a law enforcement encounter for which the camera would be turned on,” said Speaks.

For example, when conducting traffic stops or responding to calls. When asked, Speaks said officers who fail to turn their cameras on would be subject to the regular disciplinary measures the Police Department already has in place.

Estimates for the direct costs of the cameras are between 8.5 to 10 million. The bulk of that expense will go towards the servers necessary to store the thousands of hours of footage produced each week. 

According to the proposed regulations, any evidentiary camera footage will be held for at least two years, anything else will be disposed of after 90 days. A growing concern among cities that have adopted the cameras is whether the footage should be shared with the public.

“So you have accountability and transparency and for that you need the body cameras on,” says Speaks. “On the other hand you may have a person on the worst day of their life, the most humiliating day of their life, and there are now 500 YouTube video that now post body cameras videos.”

Speaks says he expects the footage will be open to the public but subject to redactions and exemptions. But that will likely involve cooperation by state lawmakers to craft exemptions to the Ohio Public Rights Act.

Editors note: the online version of this story inaccurately stated the direct cost of the police body cameras.