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Police Leaders Question Ginther's Body Cam Proposal

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City Council president and mayoral candidate Andrew Ginther wants Columbus police officers to begin wearing body cameras by the end of next year. But some police leaders say the cameras are not a top priority.

There are a number of unknowns in Ginther’s police body camera proposal…how much will it cost; what are best practices; how will privacy be protected?   

Ginther wants the city’s public safety and police departments to answer those questions by the end of the year so a police body camera program can be implemented by late next year.

“Body cameras are going to help protect the lives of police officers, and I think build trust with a community that they serve," he said. 

Following a number of fatal police use of force incidents in Ohio and around the country, civil rights leaders, particularly those from the African American community, have called for police departments to purchase the technology. 

But Ginther’s body cam plan faces some hurdles.  

The Fraternal of Police opposes them.

"At the end of the day, I don’t think the cameras make the officers any safer," FOP president Jason Pappas  said. “I don’t think there’s going to be any difference between the training and the interaction that law enforcement officers have now than if they have on body cameras.”

Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said body cams can be an effective tool. She said they could help investigators and potentially reduce citizen complaint response times. But Jacobs adds this caveat.

“It certainly would be the officer’s somewhat version of what happened because it’s not going to necessarily capture everything," she said. 

ACLU of Ohio lobbyist Gary Daniels gives a similar warning.

"They’re not going to solve every problem out there, by any means. They have limited usefulness…It’s shaky. It doesn’t show a whole lot. It doesn’t show the entire scope of what’s going on at any given time," Daniels said. 

Daniels is working with state leaders right now to draft a police body camera law that will lay out privacy parameters. He wants people to be able to decline to be recorded in some situations.

"An officer is just trying to gather more information, asks to step into someone’s home…another situation where someone should say I would rather not be recorded. And the police officer…should listen to and reply with that request.”

And then, there’s funding. The city estimates startup costs would be up to $7 million. Maintenance and data storage would cost up to $2 million each year.

Ginther said he thinks he’ll be able to capture some state and federal dollars for the program.

“I think that both state and federal leaders would be very receptive to our plan moving forward with both planning and implementation.”

Chief Jacobs said there are other ways the department could use that money.

“I have other things that I would rather see happen before that, myself. The driver’s training facility is one. We’ve got a substation in my opinion that needs to be replaced.”

The plan brought scorn from Ginther’s mayoral rival.  Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott, who supports body cams, said Ginther’s support came only after reading the polls.