COLUMBUS, OH – Columbus police officers will be allowed to review body camera footage before they file reports or make statements under new rules the city agreed to with its police union.
The city released the agreement, dated Sept. 23, on Thursday. Finishing it keeps the city on track to equip the first officers with body cameras by the end of the year. The new policy was bargained in the middle of the union’s existing contract that expires on Dec. 8, 2017.
Now the city needs to negotiate a contract to buy the cameras. City officials have pared down a list of potential vendors after a test phase in August.
Under the union agreement, officers can use recordings to help them prepare police reports. That point was among the most debated topics a task force tackled in making recommendations to Mayor Andrew J. Ginther.
“If we’re going to write a report, this is going to provide a lot more detail than what we’ve been used to in the past, particularly when it comes to uses of force,” said Jason Pappas, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Local No. 9.
The American Civil Liberties Union has advocated against officers being allowed to review footage before filing reports.
Body camera footage sometimes doesn’t capture every detail, and officers who review the footage ahead of time could choose to leave out information if it didn’t appear on video, said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio.
“Was there use of force? That’s our biggest concern,” Daniels said.
Pappas said it can be difficult to remember hectic situations, and the body cameras will ensure reports are accurate.
“We’re hoping that (the camera) captures all enforcement that we can,” said Deputy Chief Mike Woods. “That’s our first goal out of that. We’re going to rely on our officers and our supervisors. We trust them to do the right thing.”
The new policy also outlines when the city can use body camera footage to punish officers and allows the city to discipline officers who do not turn on their cameras at the right time.
Under the task force’s recommendation, officers should switch on their cameras at the start of an enforcement action, such as investigatory stops, traffic stops or adversarial encounters.
They also must use the cameras any time an officer is using force or making an arrest.
Technology that would trigger cameras automatically when an officer uses a weapon or starts to run still is being developed, but the city could use those in the future.
The agreement stipulates that cameras not be able to record more than 60 seconds before they are activated or after they are turned off and that cameras cannot be remotely activated without the officer’s knowledge in most cases.
The city also must notify an officer and the union at least 24 hours in advance of releasing body camera footage that are not public records. That might include footage that is part of an open investigation.
It also could include police-involved shooting footage after discussion within the police department and with the prosecutor, Woods said.
“It’s something we want to have the ability to do so it was prudent to include it in the (agreement),” he said.
Outfitting 1,432 of the city’s 1,900 police officers with body cameras will cost about $8.5 million in the first year. The cameras are estimated to cost about $3.3 million.
The city plans to roll out the cameras in eight phases, with 84 traffic bureau officers being the first to use them. Detectives, undercover officers and others who aren’t considered first responders will be exempt from wearing them.
Training the first wave of officers to use the cameras will begin after the city has a contract to purchase them.