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Cincinnati Police Body Camera Program Starts August 1

Jay Hanselman

The Cincinnati Police Department will begin deploying body worn cameras beginning on August 1.  The devices will start hitting the streets one district at a time through the end of the year.

The department has selected the TASER Axon Body 2 camera.  The city will initially have about 700 cameras for patrol officers.  The city is seeking funding for 400 more devices so all officers will eventually have them.

The central business section will get the body cameras first and then District 1, District 2, District 5, District 4 and District 3.  The last groups to get cameras will be the traffic unit, the gang enforcement squad and canine handlers.

The city and the police department have taken time to implement the program and established the guidelines for using the body cameras.

"Putting cameras on officers is the easy part," said Sergeant Ryan Smith. "We could honestly probably do this in a little over a month if we had too.  How we handle all this video behind the scenes, that will be what makes or breaks not only our body camera program but programs across the United States."

The police department said body camera videos will be retained for 90 days unless they are needed for investigations or prosecutions.

The department said officers may record inside private homes as long as they have a legal right to be there.  Officers are not required to inform citizens that they are being recorded.

Smith said the department does not plan to run the body camera videos through facial recognition software to try to identify members of the public.  They could do that if witnesses identify someone in a crowd as a suspect, and that person is in a body camera video.

The department has also identified nine instances when the body cameras must be activated:

  • All calls for service and self-initiated activities.
  • While responding to calls for service in "emergency" mode (lights & siren activated).
  • During the entirety of traffic pursuits and foot pursuits.
  • Traffic stops, including the investigation of a vehicle and occupants already stopped or parked.
  • When assisting other officers on any call for service or self-initiated activity.
  • All requests for consent to search without a warrant, including searches of persons, buildings, or vehicles.
  • Request for searches and deployments of drug-detection canines involving vehicles, when practical.
  • Recordings of all persons physically arrested and being transported in any department vehicle to any location.
  • Officers have the discretion to activate the camera when they believe an event may have evidentiary value.

Police officers will plug cameras into docking stations at the end of their shifts.  Officers cannot manipulate or watch the camera videos.  
The videos will be stored off-site in a cloud system and on a secure server.  It includes software for redaction of video or blurring, and muting audio on the videos.  The department will be able to share videos with lawyers, the media, and the public through an e-mail link instead of burning videos onto DVDs.  

The city is still developing administrative regulations for body cameras.  That document is expected to be complete in mid-July prior to the cameras going live on August 1.  Those guidelines could need to be revised because of a pending case before the Ohio Supreme Court about releasing police videos to the media and the public.  Ohio lawmakers are also considering legislation that could affect those regulations.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.