Anything that leads to more transparency in government, and especially in law enforcement, is a good way to prevent abuse — or erase any question of abuse.
Mahoning Township Police will begin wearing body cameras in the next few months after township supervisors approved the expenditure last week. At their regular meeting on July 27, the supervisors OK’d the $17,815 to cover the cost of the 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.”
That transparency, as it should, covers both sides in a dispute. And not just cases involving deaths, but even traffic stops that lead to arrests or interactions with the public over a complaint or a domestic dispute.
“If something happens, we will know what is going on,” said Supervisor Chairman Bill Lynn. “It protects the officer and the person talking to the officer. Now there is no, ‘He said, she said,’ going on.”
Dyroff said the township was able to get a reduced price because the new server installed in the township building two years ago can handle future upgrades without being replaced.
He 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. When an officer parks the police vehicle back at the police department, videos from the cameras will automatically upload to the township’s server, the chief said.
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.
As soon as they return to the station, though, they would have to immediately document the reason for turning off the camera, he said.
Dyroff said his officers had been asking for the cameras for some time. He noted the death of George Floyd in May expedited the process. Now that Mahoning Township’s department is getting the cameras, other area police departments are likely to follow. It is time.
One more point on this topic:
While the use of body cameras by police does increase transparency, state law, most recently amended in 2017, exempts requests for the release of those videos to the public from the state Right to Know law. Instead, it established a difficult process for obtaining them that leaves much to the discretion of the local police department involved.
As we have said before, to add transparency, we would like to see that process made simpler.
Police body cameras are another tool in the fight against crime and a way of protecting both the public and the officers.