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Dante Dolts walks by Athens County Sheriff's Office Lt. Aaron Maynard on State Route 56. (FILE)

Athens County Sheriff's Office considers dashboard cameras instead of body cameras

After announcing in September that the Athens County Sheriff's Office could be equipped with body cameras by 2017, Sheriff Rodney Smith now says he is leaning toward using dashboard cameras instead.

The office began using three mounted cruiser cameras last year and might expand to using 17 or 18 in deputy vehicles, Smith said. He said he does not like the idea of officers filming with both body cameras and dashboard cameras at once.

“It’s crazy to do both,” he said. “We shouldn’t do both.”

Smith said body cameras come with an additional cost of $8,000 to $9,000 a year for licensing and storage fees that the dashboard cameras do not require. The department’s deputy vehicles also already come equipped to carry the cameras, he said. 

“Part of the sell is once we buy a car camera, there’s no more expenses,” Smith said. “There’s no docking fees, no licenses, so I’m leaning very strongly towards just the car cameras.”

Smith said he also had concerns about the public records aspect of body camera footage. He said the department responds to 8,000 calls a year, which would produce a large amount of footage that the department would have to continuously review and redact. 

“Could you imagine 8,000 calls?” Smith said. “You do that every year, that’s a lot. So that could be overwhelming in itself. … We’d almost have to have one person (reviewing the footage) all the time.”

Smith said he does not expect to hire any additional staff members to redact the potential dashboard camera footage. He said his current staff should to be able to handle the redactions because the dashboard cameras create a smaller volume of footage.

The technology is so new to the office that the staff has not had to deal much with redactions, Smith said.

“We got three cameras last year, and with those three there’s probably not been a case that anyone’s been concerned enough to look at the footage, to be honest with you,” he said.

Smith said he also worries that body cameras would make otherwise private incidents public. Body cameras can enter private residences with deputies, while cameras mounted on vehicles cannot. Smith said body cameras could provide public access to recordings of sensitive incidents such as cases of domestic violence.

Smith said recording and releasing private details through body camera footage could damage trust of his office.

“I don’t want anyone not to call us (thinking that) ‘we saw our entire life on Channel 6,’ “ Smith said. “Or, ‘It was reported in the paper.’ I don’t know. I don’t feel good about that.”

Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said his department does not plan to use body cameras and does not use dashboard cameras.

“We had (dashboard cameras) in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and had significant issues with maintenance and upkeep,” Pyle said in an email.

The Ohio University Police Department does not have body cameras or dashboard cameras for reasons including cost, data storage, public records requirements and privacy concerns, OUPD Lt. Tim Ryan said. He said the department does not plan to start using body cameras at this time. 

“I know there’s a lot of concern from citizens that they don’t want video footage in their houses, but at the same time they want all police interactions to be videotaped, so there’s a conflict there,” Ryan said. “And how will that resolve? We don’t know.”


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