Dayton police, county deputies soon will wear body cams. Will they help?

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office will start using body cameras this week. Deputy Herman Dixon demonstrates the cameras.

Two of the largest local law enforcement departments will launch body-worn cameras soon, nearly a year after activists demanded them and even as some area police agencies and experts question their effectiveness.

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office deputies will begin using body cameras this week after months of work implementing the tool. The technology will help the sheriff’s office collect evidence, monitor deputy activity and resolve conflicts between policing officials and the public, Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck said.

“If the footage shows that a deputy didn’t do anything wrong, then that’s good, and if it shows a deputy not acting properly and we can address that, that’s good too,” Streck said.

Body-worn cameras were pushed by local civil rights groups, including the Dayton Unit NAACP, in response to George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minnesota last year. The local chapter released an 8-point plan to reform policing in the Dayton area, and body-worn cameras were a key to “ensure transparency, accountability and safety of the community.”

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office will equip deputies with body worn cameras as shown on Deputy Herman Dixon.
The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office will equip deputies with body worn cameras as shown on Deputy Herman Dixon.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Dayton NAACP President Derrick Foward said he believes body-worn cameras provide “100 percent transparency” when used properly.

“I always knew body cameras were a good technology to be used for the safety and well-being of law enforcement officers as well as citizens. You don’t have to ‘guesstimate’ about what happened. You are actually able to witness with your own eyes, and your eyes will tell you exactly what happened,” Foward said.

ExploreNAACP Dayton sees progress in police reform plan

The Dayton Police Department plans to equip officers with body-worn cameras by mid-May, a recommendation from a Dayton police reform group started after Floyd’s death.

Dayton’s cameras will be deployed in phases in order to work with the vendor on any issues that arise.

“Currently, about one-third of our department has received training on the new equipment. The majority of the training and equipment issuance will be done through the month of April,” a department spokeswoman told the Dayton Daily News.

Dayton is the largest city in Ohio that doesn’t use body-worn cameras.

ExploreHere’s why Dayton plans audits of police body-camera video

Disagreement about body cams

Not every police department in the area will get body cameras.

Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff said the city has reviewed body-worn cameras for years and will continue to do so. Springboro also invested in “a very quality and robust vehicle recording system” that has served the city well, he said.

“I think politicians and people reach for (body-worn cameras) to be an immediate solution, and I just don’t agree with that based on my years in law enforcement,” Kruithoff said.

Daniel Lawrence, a principal research associate at the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, is a social scientist whose focus is on law enforcement issues and ways to improve police and community interactions.

“I would say the studies looking at use of force are generally mixed on the impact of body-worn cameras,” Lawrence said. “Some have found small to moderate reductions, and others have found no effect at all.”

Foward said he has met with numerous police chiefs and the sheriff to discuss how law enforcement and citizens can continue to develop a trusting relationship. He said he believes progress is being made but wants every officer equipped with a body-worn camera before another person is killed by law enforcement.

“Law enforcement are everyday people just like you and I, and sitting down in a brotherhood with the law enforcement agencies and collaborating together has really been a good thing,” Foward said. “We are able to discuss, agree to disagree on some things, and continue to work through the process to set a model regarding justice reform and police accountability that other law enforcement agencies across the state can model after.”

In his studies, Lawrence said he’s found body-worn cameras do reduce citizen complaints of officer behavior.

He said leading theories about why that is include the “civilizing effect” in which citizens and officers may behave more cordially to each other because they know they are being recorded. He said many times, however, citizens don’t realize in the moment that the camera is even there.

Lawrence said another theory is citizens are more hesitant to report a complaint because of the possibility of video evidence being used against them if the allegation isn’t exactly how they remember it.

‘Indispensable tool’

Area police chiefs whose officers are already outfitted with body-worn cameras said they support the technology.

Englewood was the first area department to use them, starting in 2014, and officers there are on their third generation of cameras.

“Body cameras are an indispensable tool for law enforcement to keep the public’s trust,” Englewood Police Chief Mark Brownfield told the Dayton Daily News.

Englewood police Sgt. Mike Lang wears a WatchGuard body camera.  JIM NOELKER / STAFF
Englewood police Sgt. Mike Lang wears a WatchGuard body camera. JIM NOELKER / STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Body-worn cameras have cleared area officers in the last several months.

In September, Dayton Police released body-worn camera footage from an arrest of George Lail. Authorities said the body-worn camera footage showed a weapon was inside a vehicle when officers first asked him to exit.

The officers were testing the cameras at the time.

Also, body-worn camera footage captured a December officer-involved shooting in New Lebanon. In the video, an officer is heard telling suspect Jason Harlow not to move after the officer found a weapon. A scuffle appears to take place, and Harlow was shot.

A Montgomery County grand jury decided not to indict the officer last month.

“Body cams can be crucial in determining what happened in an interaction with an officer, and often record statements and demeanors that aid in an investigation,” the Montgomery County Prosecutor Office told the Dayton Daily News.

In addition to Englewood, other area departments that use body-warn cameras include Riverside, Bellbrook, Huber Heights, New Lebanon, Xenia, Beavercreek and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.

Trotwood and other departments are in the process of obtaining the devices.

The Miami County Sheriff’s Office announced last year a plan to get body-worn cameras for deputies.

ExploreKettering ‘fast-tracking’ buying police body cams, developing policy on their use

Kettering announced in October that officers will get the cameras. Lt. Lee Sanders said manufacturing issues attributed to the challenges presented by COVID-19 have slowed the department’s implementation, but he said the hope is to receive the needed equipment in the next month or so and to get them operational soon after.

Moraine City Council voted in February to authorize the purchase of 28 body-worn cameras, 12 in-car cameras featuring front-facing and rear-seat cameras, plus the associated software, hardware and licensing. The state bid cannot exceed $131,000.

ExploreMoraine police to get first body-worn cameras, in-car camera systems

Centerville police officials said they are evaluating which system will work best with the existing IT infrastructure and are awaiting more information on Gov. Mike DeWine’s funding plan.

$10 million plan

Money is one of the issues preventing some jurisdictions from obtaining the cameras.

DeWine wants all police officers in Ohio to use body-worn cameras and has called for a $10 million grant to assist agencies with the cost.

“I think it protects police, it protects the public. It’s good to have that transparency,” Dewine said previously.

ExploreDeWine wants all Ohio officers to wear body cameras

State Rep. Phil Plummer told the Dayton Daily News he likes body-worn cameras and believes they protect citizens and law enforcement. But Plummer, the former sheriff of Montgomery County, said paying for the tools is a challenge.

“I’d like to see the legislature invest in the back side of it, the storage for the servers, that’s the real cost,” Plummer said. “If the state can maintain that system, local departments could afford just the cost of the cameras.”

Montgomery County spent about $650,000 so far, Streck said, and expects reoccurring costs to store the video and pay employees to maintain the records.

ExploreTrotwood police to be outfitted with body cameras for the first time

Trotwood City Council last month approved $81,170 to buy 40 body-worn cameras for officers.

Officials said the purchase of the body cameras was in the works before 25-year-old Andrew Hogan was shot and killed by Trotwood police in February. Police Chief Erik Wilson said Hogan had a knife in his hand at the time of the shooting, but the event sparked a demand by Hogan’s mother and other community members for body-worn cameras.

The case was heard by a grand jury Thursday and the officer involved was not indicted.

Sheriff rolling out cameras

Montgomery County Sheriff’s deputies will begin using body-worn cameras in days. The body-worn camera policy mandates deputies record their interactions with the public.

ExploreMontgomery County deputies to get body cams

Streck said the cameras have been discussed for a long time, but the cost was a prohibiting factor. He said recent national events, calls from the public and a reduction in costs as the technology advances played a role in the office deciding to move forward. Streck said that in the past body-worn cameras would have cost the county more than $1 million, and the quality of the video wouldn’t have been as good.

The sheriff also said storing and maintaining the video was a challenge the office had to figure out.

To ensure the office is following the law when fulfilling public records requests, the sheriff is creating a new public records department, responsible for any required redaction and response to requests for the videos and other records.

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office will equip deputies with body worn cameras as shown on Deputy Herman Dixon.
The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office will equip deputies with body worn cameras as shown on Deputy Herman Dixon.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Streck said the department was created through an internal reorganization and with no new hires.

Springboro’s Kruithoff noted that police officers deal with sensitive issues every day, and when the camera is on, those once-private conversations with citizens could make it into the public’s eye.

“We get into the homes of very nice people having a bad day, and they call upon the police department to assist them with the problem they may be having,” he said. “Whether that is drug or alcohol abuse, incorrigible teenager or infidelity, that issue should not automatically be open to a records request.”

Ohio’s public records laws regulate what footage can be shared by police, but Kruithoff said residents need to trust when they come to police that their issue will be handled with care.

Jeff Jackson is a member of the use of force reform group that collaborated with Dayton police. He runs a local nonprofit and isn’t involved in law enforcement, but said, as an everyday citizen, he feels body cams will bring accountability to officers and citizens alike.

“The body camera will give a non-biased, evidence-based additional account of what took place if used properly and kept on as much as possible,” Jackson said. “From some of the research we found, they have been more helpful to law enforcement when it comes to accountability and reporting because there is a video account of what actually happened.”

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