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The Tallmadge Police Department is in the process of fine-tuning the details of its move later this spring to augment its dashboard-mounted cameras in cruisers with those worn on officers' bodies. Once necessary software is installed, officers will begin using the 15 body cameras the department received late last year.
The body cameras cost $1,195 apiece, with additional expenses for mounting hardware, chargers, software and licensing, according to Police Chief Ron Williams. Officers will wear them on their shirts.
"We intended to deploy them [the body cameras] in mid- March," Williams says, but implementation "takes a substantial amount of planning and preparation, which is on-going." For instance, redaction software has to be in place to black out or blur the faces of minors or crime victims. And a policy is in the final stages of development which addresses when the body cameras will be activated and other issues regarding their use, according to Tallmadge Law Director Megan Raber.
Each of the department's patrol officers will use a body camera as will the school resource officer and detectives. "They are to be activated when an officer interacts with a member of the public in a law enforcement capacity," according to Williams. The bodycam units have nine-hour battery lives, while Tallmadge police work 12 hour shifts. Williams says the goal is not to have every officer record every minute of their shift; however, officers are required to turn their bodycam unit on whenever they have an encounter with a citizen that might turn into law enforcement action. "We've chosen to rely on the officer's discretion," Williams says, "to allow the officers to push the button, to physically activate the camera." He acknowledges there may be times when an officer forgets to do so "because they're human."
The WatchGuard body and in-car video systems which Tallmadge will use automatically downloads video via WiFi.
While the Tallmadge Police Department does not receive many requests from the public for video, Williams says he expects that to increase once the bodycams debut. Members of the public will be allowed to contact the police department and request video from the cameras via a public records request. The officers themselves do not redact video. That is done by administrative staff according to public records law, the police chief says, adding, "Anything that is redacted has to be approved by the law director and chief of police." The original video is never redacted, only those shared with the public.
"We wish to increase our transparency to the public," explained Williams, describing the bodycams as a means of doing that. "The officers of this department do outstanding work and this is another way of backing that up," the police chief adds. "The idea is for the cameras to be a useful tool for the officers. They can record verbal statements, crime scenes, and evidence such as field sobriety tests or damage from a crash. Video evidence can create a more accurate picture in time for judges and juries to view later."
The Tallmadge Police Department currently employs 25 full-time sworn officers, three full-time civilian staff, five part-time records clerks, one school crossing guard and 16 auxiliaries.
Twitter: @ EllinWalsh_RPC