Cleveland Plans to Outfit Police with Body Cameras in 2015

file photo by Brian Bull
file photo by Brian Bull

Police Chief Calvin Williams told Cleveland City Council this week he aims to equip many of the city's 1,000 "frontline" officers with body cameras by the first quarter of 2015.

The safety department is asking council to approve $1.6 million for the program -- though it's not yet clear how many cameras that money could fund.

There have been new calls for Cleveland police to wear body cameras after officers fatally shot two unarmed people after a lengthy car chase in Nov. 2012. Police had no way to record video of the shooting, and investigators relied on interviews with officers to piece together what had happened.

Departments across the country have been trying out body cameras in the hopes of collecting more definitive records of officers' encounters with residents. Police in Ferguson, Mo. began wearing body cameras after a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old, sparking weeks of protests.

Cleveland police leadership said body cameras could also ward off false complaints against officers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that police in Rialto, Calif. used force less frequently -- and residents lodged fewer complaints against the department -- after many officers began wearing cameras.

But the system hasn't always worked. The Times-Picayune reports a court-appointed monitor found many uses of force by New Orleans police weren't recorded by their body cameras.

And Williams said the plan presents Cleveland's safety department with huge technical obstacles. Police would need to store massive amounts of video data for years. Williams said police brass are weighing whether to save the data on the city's own servers or to pay a company to host the files elsewhere.

Body-worn cameras also raise privacy questions, as outlined in another piece by the Los Angeles Times. Officers could potentially record while in people's homes. And victims of sexual assault or domestic violence may not want video of their conversations with police to become public.

Williams said police are crafting a policy for sharing video with prosecutors, defense attorneys and the public.

Cleveland police officials told council they'd been planning for at least two-and-a-half years to distribute body cameras to officers patrolling city streets. Police tested two different body camera systems earlier this year.

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