by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, March 2015) At the February 10th meeting of the Second District Community Relations Committee, Cleveland Police Department Deputy Chiefs Wayne Drummond and Leroy Morrow explained the planned roll out of body cameras in the Cleveland Police Department. Officers in the Second District will be issued body cameras during the month of March. In the First District, the roll out will happen in May.
In their presentation, Deputy Chiefs Drummond and Morrow said the City of Cleveland’s Body Camera Team hoped the body-worn cameras would provide increased transparency and officer accountability, help rebuild public trust, deter violence by suspects and reduce the number of complaints of the use of force. They cited a 2012 Rialto California study, which reported a reduction of 87.5% in complaints against police officers and a 59% reduction in reported use of force as the result of police officers wearing body cameras.
The Deputy Chiefs reported that the Cleveland Body Camera Project Team included representatives of the Police Department, City of Cleveland IT staff, Law Department representatives and Community Representatives. The team worked on policy, a retention schedule for video and audio recorded by the cameras, and language to be included in contract negotiations with the police union.
The plan for obtaining the cameras included a pilot program this summer where officers in the Second and Fourth Districts tried out the cameras. The Deputy Chiefs said that while officers initially did not like the cameras, after trying them they were glad they had them. The Deputy Chiefs reported that when people know they are on camera—the behavior of the officers and members of the public changed.
Requests for proposals were sent out in early October of last year, they said. Taser International was chosen as the vendor. The Cleveland Police Department ordered 375 Flex Axon Taser International Cameras and 1125 Taser International Body Cameras. The cost of the contract totaled $2.4 million for the 1,500 cameras and the digital storage management system that accompanies them.
In their presentation, the Deputy Chiefs said the cameras would always be recording video in buffer mode, officers would turn cameras to event mode, which records both video and audio, when they are about to interact with a victim, witness or suspect in a variety of circumstances. The recording would not be used in circumstances where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy such as restrooms or dressing rooms or at sporting events where cameras are prohibited.
They said the buffer mode allows the 30 seconds of video prior to the event mode being pressed to be included in the video for the event. The Deputy Chiefs emphasized that the police officers would not be able to edit or erase the content of the video.
They said the video would be stored on the cloud and evidence from the video can be shared with prosecutors as needed. The information would also be available to the public or media via a public records request. The officers said the request would have to be vetted through the City of Cleveland Law Department.
The Deputy Chiefs noted that four police officers would be assigned to manage data from the cameras. The officers wearing the video camera will be required to tag videos in various categories when they make their police reports. Supervisors will randomly review footage from the videos.
Following the presentation, the Deputy Chiefs answered questions from the public about public records requests, cases where informants may request privacy when offering information to the police, and about the policy of notifying the public when practical that the camera is in use.
Someone also asked about the procedure for officers to follow if a person requests the camera be turned off when entering a private home. In this case a supervisor would have to be consulted before turning the camera into buffer mode or the officer could ask that the interview be conducted outside the house.
Members of the public also asked if officers could potentially review their partner’s video to collaborate when writing a police report. Other questions involved who pays for the camera when it is lost and what happens when an officer forgets the camera at home. The Deputy Chiefs assured residents that there would be spare units available at the Police Districts if a camera is lost or forgotten at home.
The Deputy Chiefs said only a handful of people would have the ability to delete the videos upon review – the Police Chief and Deputy Chiefs are among the few with this authority — several sets of eyes would always review the video prior to deletion, they said. After deletion, the system would give the reviewer an option a week later to restore the video.
Those in attendance were also treated to a view of video and audio from a body camera used during the trial period last summer. The video showed the rescue of a child from drowning at Edgewater Park. There was a lot of movement during the rescue and both the video and audio were hard to follow.
Following the viewing of the video, Officer Mitch Sheehan demonstrated a clip on Flex Camera, which can be worn in a variety of locations on the body, and Patrolman Tim Mayer demonstrated a body camera he wore on his pocket.
Mayer noted that in addition to use for recording interactions of police with civilians, the cameras could be used to scout out a location before officers enter. For example, he said the cameras could be placed on a broomstick to look around a corner before officers proceed into a space where they cannot see. The image from the camera can be viewed on the officer’s cell phone – adding to their safety as they enter a possibly dangerous location.
Editor’s Note: A Community Roundtable on Police Body Cameras sponsored by the Cleveland Division of Police and the Cleveland Community Relations Department will be held on March 4th at 7 p.m. at La Sagrada Familia Church, 7719 Detroit Avenue.