Sheriff weighs-in on body cameras

By Frank Lewis

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On Tuesday, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) introduced an amendment to increase funding for police body cameras. The amendment that overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives allocates an additional $10 million to the Body Worn Camera Partnership Program of the Department of Justice (DOJ), bringing that funding up to $25 million, though it remains $25 million below what has been requested by President Barack Obama.

Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware has previously commented on the proposed use of body cameras.

“There are benefits and there are concerns,” Ware said. “There are many law enforcement executives across the country that are using or considering using body worn cameras as a means to reduce civil liability and more closely ascertain the true circumstances behind an encounter.”

Now Scioto County Sheriff Marty Donini, in response to questions from the Daily Times, has also weighed-in on the issue.

“As a law enforcement manager, I have no problem with body cameras being worn by law enforcement officers. There’s no doubt that when people know that their behavior is being monitored they tend to make an extra effort to behave more appropriately and law enforcement officers are no exception to this concept,” Donini said. “What manager wouldn’t want their employees behaving more appropriately and doing things the correct way?”

Donini said, according to research, nearly 25 percent of all law enforcement agencies have implemented some sort of body camera program for their officers. He said research also shows that nearly a third of them have failed to implement the most important part of the body camera program and that is having a policy to regulate the use of the cameras. Developing a policy is so essential, Donini said, because it clarifies the expectations of both, what the law enforcement agency expects from the officer and what the public can expect from the use of the body cameras including any limitations.

“I believe some of the public has developed unrealistic expectations concerning the use of body cameras in law enforcement. The cameras will not pick up everything, nor will it be appropriate for law enforcement to video tape all encounters with the public,” Donini said. “Talking to rape and sex crime victims, talking to witnesses and informants would be some examples of incidents that should not be recorded because all of these recordings would now become part of the public records and could further jeopardize the safety of victims and/or witnesses. I’m sure there will also be incidents where law enforcement officers either negligently or intentionally fail to activate the cameras.”

Donini said he believes the most difficult part of implementing the program would be developing a policy regulating the use of the cameras and more importantly assuring that the policy is being followed by routinely checking the videos to verify that the officers are activating the cameras in accordance with the policy and if an officers violates the policy, he or she should be disciplined. Donini said implementing the body camera program without a policy or failing to invest time enforcing the policy will simply further tarnish law enforcement credibility.

Funding the program is a separate topic because not only does it include the purchasing of the product but it includes the ongoing training of officers to use it and understand the policy implemented to regulate it. Donini said another factor to include is the need to replace and/or repair the cameras as technology improves and produces more quality video and audio results.

“Sure this office would be interested in receiving financial funding to purchase the cameras and implement the program,” Donini told the Times.

Castro’s amendment is on H.R. 2578, the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations bill, on which the House is expected to vote in the next few days.

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

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