Body camera bill faces uncertain future

2016 File Photo of a police body camera

Mahoning Township Police officers will be equipped with body cameras in the next few months after township supervisors approved the expenditure this week.

During Monday’s township meeting, supervisors quickly approved $17,815 to cover the cost of new body cameras, upgrades to the department’s existing servers and installation. The department will become one of the first in the Valley to use body cameras, according to Chief Fred Dyroff.

“This is a transparency thing,” Dyroff said. “It just shows we’re not hiding anything. It is a practice that protects the public as much as it does the officers.”

Dyroff and township Chairman Bill Lynn said work had been going on behind the scenes for months to find an affordable system that was still top of the line. Dyroff said the cost was able to be reduced because when a new server was installed in the township building two years ago, supervisors purchased a model that is able to handle future upgrades without being replaced.

Dyroff placed the order on Tuesday and expects it to be filled in the next 60 days.

“It’s a really good investment for us,” Lynn said. “We’ve done a lot of price checking and we needed something that was compatible with what we already had, to be able to build on the system we had in place. That was one of the biggest issues.”

Dyroff said the department will upgrade its WatchGuard system already in place for dashboard cameras with V300 bodycams. Previously, the dashboard camera was tied directly to the cruiser’s patrol lights, so when an officer flipped the light bar on, the camera automatically went on.

The bodycams will be synched to that system as well, so the dashboard and body cameras start recording when the lights are activated. Additionally, Dyroff said when an officer parks the police vehicle at the township building that houses the department, videos from the cameras will automatically upload to the township’s server.

“If something happens, we will know what is going on,” Lynn said. “It protects the officer and the person talking to the officer. Now there is no ‘he said, she said,’ going on.”

Dyroff said he has to review the functionality of the cameras, but says there is a way officers could switch the camera off, he said. “If someone is in a person’s home and the individuals are not appropriately dressed, they may want to turn it off for privacy,” Dyroff said. If an officer does turn the camera off, they would have to immediately document the reason for it when they return to the station, he said.

“Our officers are for it, they’ve been asking for a while about it,” said Dyroff, noting the death of George Floyd in May expedited the process. “They are excited. In a couple of years, they will probably be mandated by the government.” 

“It’s a smart thing for the officers and the township,” Lynn said, “You just never know what is going to happen.”

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