State troopers to wear body cameras on patrol

Credit: Ohio State Highway Patrol

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All Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers on the road will get body cameras by next spring. Video credit: Ohio State Highway Patrol

Credit: Ohio State Highway Patrol

All Ohio State Highway Patrol officers on the road will be wearing body cameras by May 2022.

“This rollout is beginning immediately,” Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday, speaking to cadets at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Training Academy in Columbus.

Distribution of the new chest-mounted cameras began Nov. 2 in the Columbus patrol district, said Col. Richard Fambro, Ohio State Highway Patrol superintendent. Body cameras are going first to the districts that have the oldest in-car camera systems.

The cameras will be issued to all officers, investigators and supervisors who are generally in contact with the public. That doesn’t include administrators, Fambro said.

Dayton and much of Southwest Ohio are in the Wilmington and Piqua patrol districts, and expected to receive cameras in December and January respectively.

“Today’s announcement is another example of our commitment to transparency and making Ohio a safer place to live and work,” Fambro said.

Body cameras are another tool to help address bias-based policing, which Fambro said has been an active concern for the department for two decades. Bias-based policing is commonly known as racial profiling, but can include use of gender, religion, age, socioeconomic status or other factors as the basis for police activity.

Highway patrol supervisors routinely review footage from in-car cameras to evaluate troopers’ performance, but those cameras’ field of view is limited, Fambro said.

“The body camera adds another level of transparency, and we welcome that,” he said.

Protecting Ohioans’ constitutional and civil rights is of “paramount importance,” and the addition of body cameras will help build public trust in police, Fambro said.

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The 1,550 body cameras will be accompanied by 1,221 new in-car systems. The body cameras will be integrated with dash and rear-seat cameras, DeWine said.

“When the lights and sirens start rolling, so will the body cameras,” he said.

Ohio troopers have had dash cameras and rear-seat cameras for more than 20 years, DeWine said.

“But the current in-car systems have limitations,” he said. Meanwhile, body cameras have become a standard law enforcement tool, DeWine said.

The cameras are “always running,” but not necessarily recording, Fambro said; when recording is activated, bodycams and dash cams will save the previous 90 seconds, while rear-seat cameras save the previous 60 seconds.

The cameras can also be activated manually, said Lt. Nathan Dennis, spokesperson for the state highway patrol. If troopers are out of their cruisers and have some public contact in which law enforcement action may be taken, policy dictates that they begin recording, he said.

Officers can be disciplined for failure to record with the cameras, Fambro said.

As with the belt microphones currently in use, troopers may mute the audio on their cameras for “administrative conversations” with supervisors, but they have to say why they’re doing so and reactivate the audio recording as soon as that conversation is over, Dennis said.

The state tested four brands of camera in summer 2020, Fambro said. A system from Axon was chosen as integrating best with the department’s current cameras, he said. Scottsdale, Arizona-based Axon, formerly TASER International, makes stun guns, body cameras and related software.

The new cameras will cost $15 million over the next five years, paid out of the patrol division’s normal operating budget, DeWine said. Those costs aren’t just for the cameras themselves, but also for storage systems, installation, maintenance and training, he said.

Data storage and retention is a significant cost, DeWine said.

“The price is a big reason many smaller agencies do not have body cameras,” he said.

DeWine said he worked with state legislators to designate $10 million for local police agencies to pay for body camera expenses. The first $5 million of that, available this year, drew $16 million in requests within a month, he said.

The first round of grants should be announced by the end of 2021, and the other $5 million will be available next year, DeWine said. He plans to ask legislators for additional funding.

“The sheer volume of requests, I think, indicates to us a very significant need and desire out there for body cameras,” DeWine said.

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In June 2020, DeWine endorsed a number of police reforms: banning chokeholds in all but life-or-death circumstances, requiring professional licensing for police officers, and requiring body cameras for all officers statewide.

He said at the time that he had directed the highway patrol to outfit all troopers with body cameras and have independent parties take over investigations of trooper-involved shootings.

On Monday, DeWine also announced creation of a new division within the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Office of Criminal Justice Services to focus on the well-being of Ohio’s first responders.

The Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness will serve law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services, dispatch, corrections and Ohio-based military. It will provide specialized support and training to help emergency-response agencies proactively address post-traumatic stress and other traumas unique to first-responder careers. The office will partner with other local and state mental health agencies to help first responders statewide.

Steven Click, a 36-year veteran of the Ohio highway patrol, will be the office’s first director. From 2002 to 2018 he oversaw the patrol’s Member Assistance Team and recently served as liaison between first responders and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

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