Cleveland Police to Roll Out Body Camera Program Beginning in February

At a church in Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, top police brass fielded questions last night from neighbors about the division’s plan to outfit all officers with video cameras.

The action comes as the division faces intense scrutiny over police shootings and others uses of force. The city has been planning for years to record police encounters with the public. The division recently bought 1,500 cameras from Taser International.

Police Chief Calvin Williams told the audience that body cameras would reduce “some of those negative interactions—on both sides—between police officers and citizens.”

Williams said the city is deploying body cameras to ensure officers are transparent about—and accountable for—their actions, “and also to make sure that residents feel that we are doing the jobs that we’re supposed to be doing, and that they themselves know that the cameras are going to catch both sides of the issue, of the situation.”

Police say officers will begin recording during traffic and pedestrian stops, when pursuing drivers, while responding to crime or accident scenes and when investigating other disturbances or possible criminal activity.

Afterward, police will upload the video files from the station to a cloud storage site. Cleveland bought storage space on Evidence.com, a division of Taser.

Only videos involved in homicide or sexual assault cases will be retained indefinitely. Police say after five years, the division will delete videos related to other felony crime scenes, vehicle pursuits, arrests, search warrants, citizen complaints and officers using force. Videos connected to misdemeanor cases will have a life of one year, and video of traffic stops where no citation is issued will be deleted after 180 days.

The video files produced by body cameras would be considered public records, and departments around the country are working out how to balance transparency with the privacy of the public, including witnesses and victims of crime.

“I’ve seen some law enforcement say, We often encounter people at their worst,” Cleveland State University law professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich told ideastream recently. “And to automatically have all of that be videotaped and put in the public domain is perhaps more transparency than we need.”

A study in Rialto, Calif., showed uses of force and complaints against officers declined after police began using cameras. But one researcher who worked on that report told NPR it’s not certain other departments would see similar results.

Cleveland city councilman Zack Reed and the Plain Dealer editorial board have called for police to release to the public the division’s new body camera policies.

Officers in the fourth district, where last night’s meeting was held, are scheduled to receive cameras in February. Police will roll out the camera program district-by-district until June, and plan to put on similar presentations throughout the city.

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