Many law enforcement agencies using body cameras, but some say they can't afford them

Bethany Bruner
The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus police started using Panasonic police body cameras in 2016. The division is upgrading its body camera technology this year.

As the city of Columbus prepares to invest $4.5 million on upgrading police body cameras, some other central Ohio law enforcement agencies continue to research the devices. Others say they simply can't afford it.

In January, Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced the city's expenditure in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed Black man by a police officer who did not have his body camera turned on at the time.

More:City of Columbus to spend $4.5 million on new body camera technology for police

There is no statewide tracking of which law enforcement agencies have body camera technology, according to Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Ohio Attorney General's office.

The Dispatch surveyed 62 law enforcement agencies in central Ohio — Franklin, Delaware, Fairfield, Licking, Madison, Pickaway and Union counties — about body camera usage and policies. A total of 54 agencies, or 87%, responded to the newspaper's inquiry.  

Of those 54 agencies who responded, 33 of them, or about 61%, are currently using body cameras.

An additional 11 agencies, or about 20.5% of respondents, said they are researching body cameras and anticipate having them implemented or purchased sometime in 2021. That includes the Franklin County Sheriff's office, which is expediting the acquisition of body cameras in the wake of the fatal shooting of Casey Goodson Jr. by sheriff's deputy Jason Meade last December. 

More: Official Franklin County autopsy confirms Casey Goodson Jr. shot 6 times, 5 in the back

The remaining 10 agencies, or about 18.5%, who responded said they do not have body cameras and have no plans to acquire them.  In most cases, the agencies reported the cost was too prohibitive. Some law enforcement agencies had only a handful of officers.

Columbus Regional Airport Authority police, whose responsibilities include John Glenn Columbus International Airport, said they do not have body cameras because surveillance cameras are located throughout the terminal and airport property. 

From Fairfield County:In a move toward increased transparency, deputies to start wearing body cameras in April

Columbus Division of Police hopes to have its upgraded body camera technology implemented by the end of the year. The upgrades would allow for increased video quality and additional "look-back" features to capture video and audio. 

The current cameras, which began being used in 2016, have a look-back that captures video, but not sound, in the 60 seconds before the camera is turned on. That became an issue on Dec. 22 when Columbus police officer Adam Coy shot and killed 47-year-old Andre Hill within seconds of responding with another officer to the scene of a non-emergency disturbance call Dec. 22 on the Northwest Side.

Coy and a female officer who responded to the call did not turn on their body cameras until after Coy fatally shot Hill. The look-back feature captured video of the shooting, but there was no audio of what was said between the officers and Hill, who was emerging from the garage of a home with a cellphone camera held aloft in his left hand when he was shot.

Body camera footage also showed Coy asking the female officer to get him assistance, but neither of them, nor some other officers who arrived shortly after, immediately administered CPR to Hill as he lay dying at the garage entrance. The city later adopted legislation requiring officers in use-of-force situations to render aid when possible. 

Coy was fired later that month, a decision that is now being contested, and he has also been charged with murder, felonious assault, and two counts of dereliction of duty

Columbus chose Watchguard Video as the vendor to supply body cameras for police officers in 2016. The city is upgrading that technology in 2021 to have an increased look-back capability and the ability to sync video with dash cameras inside cruisers.

Of the 33 central Ohio agencies who currently use body cameras, all but one have a look-back feature. And that department — Reynoldsburg police — plans to upgrade its camera technology in 2021. The time frames for how much video is captured on look-back varies in most cases from 30 to 60 seconds, according to the agencies who responded. 

Bexley's cameras, however, capture video and audio for up to two minutes prior to the device being turned on.

Madison Township in Franklin County said its devices are capable of providing a two-minute look-back feature, but that feature had not been turned on for the agency's cameras. 

After the Hill shooting in Columbus, Madison Township said they turned on the feature. However, the agency said issues with battery life developed and the feature had to be turned back off. 

More:What we know about the fatal shooting of Andre Hill, a Black man, by Columbus police

Ginther said the city's new cameras will be able to work with cruiser dash cameras to be allow footage to be transferred remotely, as well as automatically turning the camera on when an officer is dispatched on an emergency run or exits the cruiser. 

That technology is similar to what some central Ohio agencies have now. Whitehall Deputy Chief Dan Kelso said the cameras their officers wear are constantly recording and even if an officer doesn't turn on the camera, a video and audio file can be created from the previous 12 hours of footage captured by the camera. 

The governor's budget proposal also calls for $10 million in grants to be made available for law enforcement agencies to purchase body cameras. 

More:$10 million for officer body cameras included in Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's budget plan

That money could help agencies like Sharon Township, which has 10 full-time officers. Sharon Twp. Chief Donald Schwind told The Dispatch the township doesn't have the money to buy the cameras and store all the video footage, as well as having someone on staff to handle records requests related to the video files.

Columbus police are upgrading body camera technology in 2021. The city first got body cameras in 2016 after testing out six cameras.

But it isn't just small agencies who could use that money. Newark, one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Licking County, is looking to implement body cameras in 2022 at the earliest for the agency's patrol officers. 

Chief Steve Baum said their agency recently received a $100,000 quote for the cost to purchase 40 body cameras, a number that includes the price of redaction software, warranties and other costs associated with the equipment. Newark currently has more than 60 police officers and is budgeted for up to 73. 

More:Editorial: Body cameras are long overdue for sheriff's office

“We actually have a quote and are working toward permission to buy them and deploy them, but that would be a process because first of all, it would have to be a line item and it would have to be placed into a budget, and then there would have to be a policy developed, which would come from the state … with the best practices on when to deploy them," Baum said. 

Columbus began using body cameras in 2015, after several other smaller agencies within Franklin County and agencies in some surrounding counties. According to information provided by law enforcement agencies to The Dispatch, Minerva Park and Clinton Township began using body cameras in 2013 and 2014, respectively. 

Johnstown, in Licking County, began using body cameras in 2013 and Lithopolis, in Fairfield County, began using body camera technology in 2009 and upgraded in 2014. 

Several agencies said they are looking into cameras and expect them to be implemented in 2021 or 2022. The Licking County Sheriff's office, the largest law enforcement agency in that county, expects to have body cameras implemented in mid to late 2021. 

Other agencies, like the Franklin County Sheriff's office are continuing to research and make decisions surrounding what type of body camera should be purchased, who would be required to wear one and what sort of technology would be wanted. 

Franklin County commissioners set aside $2.5 million in December 2020 for 175 deputies to be outfitted with cameras in 2021. 

More:Franklin County commissioners push for body cams, policy changes following shooting

The sheriff's office had been considering body cameras for several years, however, the process was accelerated following the shooting of 23-year-old Casey Goodson Jr. on Dec. 4 by Deputy Jason Meade. 

The deputy was not wearing a body camera at the time of the shooting. The circumstances of the shooting remain under investigation. 

The sheriff's office said they are in the process of getting information about costs for cameras from different agencies. 

Body cameras in central Ohio police agencies

Franklin County

Currently in use: Columbus, Whitehall, Mifflin Township, Clinton Township, Minerva Park, Reynoldsburg, Franklin Township, Westerville, Dublin, Bexley, Madison Township, Groveport, Ohio State University and Columbus State police

In process: Gahanna, Franklin County Sheriff's Office, Grandview Heights, Grove City, Hilliard, New Albany, Upper Arlington and Worthington police

No cameras: Columbus Regional Airport Authority, Otterbein University, Sharon Township police

No reply: Obetz 

Delaware County

Currently in use: Delaware County Sheriff's Office, Genoa Township, Powell and Shawnee Hills

In process: Delaware (city)

No reply: Ashley, Ostrander, Sunbury

Fairfield County

Currently in use: Lancaster, Lithopolis

In progress: Fairfield County Sheriff's Office

No reply: Baltimore, Carroll

Licking County

Currently in use: Johnstown, Pataskala, Utica

In progress: Licking County Sheriff's Office, Newark

No cameras: Granville, Hebron, Heath

Madison County

Currently in use: London, Plain City

In progress: West Jefferson

No cameras: Madison County Sheriff's Office

Pickaway County

Currently in use: Circleville, Commercial Point, Ashville

In progress: None

No cameras: Pickaway County Sheriff's Office

No reply: New Holland, South Bloomfield

Union County

Currently in use: Marysville, Union County Sheriff's Office

In progress: None

No cameras: None

No reply: Richwood