Strongsville budgets $400,000 for police body cameras, new dashboard cameras

By Bob Sandrick, special to cleveland.com

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — The city will buy body cameras for each of its 55 or so uniformed police patrol officers next year, Police Chief Mark Fender told cleveland.com last week.

Fender said the Police Department has budgeted $400,000 for the purchase, which will also include new, upgraded dashboard cameras for the department’s 30 cruisers. The cameras, with a brand name of BodyWorn, will come from Utility Associates Inc. in Decatur, Ga.

The Strongsville Police Department has budgeted $400,000 for body cameras and replacement dashboard cameras. (Bob Sandrick, special to cleveland.com)

“Body cameras are a good tool because they can provide more information about encounters between police and citizens,” said Councilwoman Kelly Kosek, who raised the topic of police body cameras during a September city budget hearing.

“Specifically, the body cameras that Chief Fender identified also have GPS locators, which are an added safety measure for our officers,” she said.

Fender said the cameras will automatically send an alert if turned to a horizontal position, indicating that an officer is down. Thanks to the GPS feature, dispatchers and other officers receiving the alert will know the downed officer’s location.

“The important thing for us is officer safety,” Fender said.

Among the other three cities along Ohio 82 in Cuyahoga County, North Royalton also plans to acquire body cameras for police officers. The subject was scheduled to come up Tuesday night (Dec. 3) during a City Council Finance Committee meeting.

Brecksville Mayor Jerry Hruby told cleveland.com earlier this year that his police officers can carry body cameras at their own expense, but he wasn’t aware of any officer doing so.

Broadview Heights police Lt. Steve Raiff said earlier this year that police in that city don’t carry body cameras, but have cameras on their Tasers. The cameras are activated when the Tasers are deployed.

As for dashboard cameras, Brecksville and Strongsville have both equipped their police cruisers with them, according to Hruby and Fender, while North Royalton and Broadview Heights have not.

However, North Royalton would include dashboard cameras in its acquisition of body cameras. Earlier this year, cleveland.com reported that North Royalton would likely lease the body and dashboard cameras, possibly at a cost of more than $200,000 over five years, although that number might have changed.

Raiff said Broadview Heights might consider obtaining dashboard cameras in the future.

Waiting for technology

Fender said Strongsville police have been researching body cameras for more than three years, but held off obtaining them because the technology was lacking.

For example, camera batteries in older models, unlike newer versions, didn’t remain charged for a complete eight-hour shift.

“And they didn’t have GPS, or they had GPS, but when it was running, it would drain the battery even more,” Fender said.

Last year, Fender attended an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Florida, where he and fellow officers saw more than a half-dozen brands of body camera on display. They researched the cameras, then narrowed their choices to three brands — Motorola, BodyWorn and WatchGuard, a Seattle firm that had provided equipment to Olmsted Falls. Fender said Motorola has since purchased WatchGuard.

Police ran demonstrations of the three brands, and received input from the city’s information technology workers, before choosing BodyWorn. Fender said city officials liked BodyWorn’s officer-down alert signal, among other features.

As the city was researching body cameras, the company that had been providing its dashboard cameras left the camera business and no longer offered technical support, Fender said. Luckily, Utility Associates sells both body and dashboard cameras, so the city will buy both types of cameras from that firm.

Fender said the new dashboard cameras show clearer images than the older cameras.

“With BodyWorn, the dashboard cameras are in sync with the body cameras,” Fender said. “Once an officer steps out of the car, or when the emergency lights are activated, the cameras are activated, and the video is recorded.

“We will likely set up the system so that when the vehicle’s emergency lights are activated, the dashboard camera is activated, and when the officer exits the vehicle, the body camera activates,” Fender said.

Fender said the city decided to buy body and dashboard cameras, as opposed to leasing them, because the purchase includes free upgrades for five years if technology improves. He said the city won’t need to hire additional workers to manage body-camera data.

SOURCE: Cleveland.com

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