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Grant helps Ohio sheriff’s office outfit 100 deputies with body-worn cameras

Butler County commissioners approve a contract with Axon for three years


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By Denise G. Callahan

BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio — The Butler County Sheriff’s Office has a three-year, $401,712 contract to outfit about 100 deputies, and possibly other staff, with new Axon body cameras, and the program should be operational by the end of 2023.

The county commissioners have approved the contract with Axon, a cost that is being supplemented with a $168,053 grant from the state. Sheriff Richard Jones asked the state for $280,089 to implement the program but few who applied got their full ask.

For years, Jones has been vehemently opposed to the technology for a number of reasons, but he told the Journal-News “times have changed” and “they’re going to make it so you can’t get grant money if you don’t have these cameras eventually.”

“When they first came out I was not in favor of them because it was so expensive, just not for the cameras but storing the data and personnel to manage this,” Jones said. “That’s all changed now, the data management has gotten easier and we can look at what others have done and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

The sheriff put out a request for proposals and received offers from three vendors, Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said “the only vendor that met all of our requirements” was Axon. He said they still have a long way to go before deputies can clip the cameras on their uniforms. They are working with Axon on the details of rolling out the program, but they should be deployed by the end of the year.

There are 320 sworn officers who could potentially wear the recording devises, including patrol, the jail, detectives, school resource officers and others so Dwyer said they need to determine who should be prioritized. Then there is the matter of training. He said they have a draft policy — which was required for the state grant — that establishes guidelines for their use.

Here are some specific instances where the cameras must be rolling: — All contacts with citizens in the performance of official duties including traffic stops, OVI investigations and field sobriety tests. — All investigatory stops, suspicious persons or vehicle calls, vehicle searches and/or inventory searches. — All jail booking of prisoners. — Responding to domestic disputes, disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace calls. — Miranda Warnings and responses from in-custody suspects. — Physical or verbal confrontations or use of force situations.

Redacting and storage is another big issue. Dwyer said they are still determining whether additional personnel will be needed. He said he has many people who handle records in different areas of the organization, so they are fine-tuning that portion of the program.

The contract is for three years, but Dwyer said they are trying to stretch it to five.

“We’ll use a lot of the grant money up front to pay the cost of the product, and then that will shift into a smaller amount moving forward. So, we’ll frontload as much as we can to get the project up and running and then there’ll be a reduced cost over the next several years,” Dwyer said. “Obviously we’re going to have to find money in our budget this year and then we’ll have to address it in next year’s budget moving forward, as to how we’re going to manage it.”

Jones and police chiefs from Fairfield Twp., Middletown and West Chester Twp. were among 112 police agencies statewide vying for $5 million in the second round of funding Gov. Mike DeWine made available for body cameras last year. They asked for a total of $492,483 and received $282,951.

DeWine’s office indicated 44 agencies statewide will use funding to create new body-worn camera programs and 68 will dedicate funding toward expanding or upgrading existing technology. Fairfield Twp. wanted $41,851 and received $18,965, so Police Chief Bob Chabali said they will likely use the cash for newer batteries.

Jones and Middletown Police Chief David Birk wanted to start new programs.

Middletown applied for $185,161 in the first round of funding last year for 78 cameras, software and one records redaction specialist. Birk requested $124,218 and received $49,608 in the second round in December.

Birk told the Journal-News the city manager said there is no money in the budget to pay for a redaction specialist, so he had to decline the grant. He said he isn’t giving up but he isn’t hopeful he’ll get any more money from the state.

“You know when you get grants like that and you turn them down, it’s kind of hard to say hey we need it now,” Birk said. “This is the second time we wrote the grant and we didn’t get it, the second time we got it. I understand not everybody got the full amount... but it’s a starting base, it’s to start the program.”

He said he believes they are crucial for transparency, and 97% of the time, officers are exonerated of wrong-doing with the cameras, so “as long as I’m here we’re going to keep trying” to get money for the program.

This was the second time Jones applied for state money, the first time he also asked for $280,089 to implement the program but was unsuccessful. He said transparency isn’t an issue with his agency but he knows in this day and age there are people constantly accusing the police of wrongdoing, so the videos can be helpful.

“I don’t know if it’ll make us more transparent, but we’re already transparent with everything we do. It’s what it is and it will please some people and some people it will not please no matter what you do,” Jones said. “If you have photographs, if you have video, you have statements, in these big cities it still doesn’t matter, they still have riots, they still burn parts of the city down, they still don’t believe it. We’re already transparent, maybe this will make some feel that we’re more transparent.”

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