NORTH ROYALTON, Ohio — For the first time, the city this year will equip its police officers with dashboard and body cameras, at a cost of $247,100 over five years.
City Council has approved a contract with Utility Associates Inc., in Decatur, Ga., to provide BodyWorn brand cameras, the same kind the City of Strongsville will likely purchase later this year.
Bruce Campbell, North Royalton’s director of public safety, said camera installation will start this month in the city’s 15 police vehicles and in the uniforms of 35 police officers. He believes all dashboard and body cameras will be operating within the first quarter of 2020.
“Officer safety is a big issue for us,” Campbell told cleveland.com. “Officer complaints have been reduced to almost zero when these systems were installed in other departments, according to the Ohio Association of Public Safety Directors.”
In North Royalton, complaints have included charges of perjury, tampering with evidence and falsification against one police officer. The charges stemmed from a 2018 arrest involving a cell phone video, taken by the person arrested, that reportedly contradicts the officer’s incident report.
Also, in 2017, the city was sued over the police shooting of a mentally ill man.
Last year, then-mayor Robert Stefanik said the city had discussed acquiring police body cameras as far back as 2010. The city waited until camera technology improved and prices came down.
Stefanik said last year that the city was leaning toward a camera system by Motorola. Campbell said that changed after police tested BodyWorn.
“In some systems, the camera is on the outside of the officer’s uniform, and it can be pulled or knocked off,” Campbell said. “We liked BodyWorn because the camera goes inside a specially designed pocket, where it’s secure.”
Included in the BodyWorn package is a “smart holster” that detects when an officer draws his or her weapon and automatically turns on the body camera. A built-in accelerometer detects when an officer starts running and activates the camera. Officers can manually turn the camera off and on through a belt- or wrist-worn device.
Like in the system Strongsville plans to install, BodyWorn cameras will automatically send an alert if turned to a horizontal position, indicating that an officer is down. A GPS will ensure that dispatchers and other officers receiving the alert know where the downed officer is located.
Meanwhile, each police vehicle will have a dashboard camera aimed toward the windshield and another monitoring the back seat, where arrestees and prisoners are transported.
The system is programmable, so police can decide when the dashcams start recording. For example, they can turn on when overhead lights and sirens are activated or when an officer steps out of the cruiser.
“Those decisions still have to be made,” Campbell said.
The package from Utility Associates will also include a new camera and microphone system for the police interview or interrogation room. It will provide multiple views, instead of the single view the room has now; more sensitive microphones; and improved recording capabilities, Campbell said.
Campbell said the camera project is one of his last for the city. His position has been eliminated under new Mayor Larry Antoskiewicz.
“I’m glad I got to see this project through to the end,” Campbell said.