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APD cruisers are parked at the department's headquarters. (FILE)

Athens Police Department may soon deploy body cameras

Editors note: This article was originally published April 5, 2017.

If Athens officials find room in the budget and the Athens Police Department complies, officers may soon be wearing body cameras.

Athens City Councilman and local attorney Pat McGee, I-At Large, said he has been pushing for body cameras for months. He hopes cameras will clear up stories about potential misconduct by Athens Police Department officers.

“I constantly hear stories different from the police reports, and some of them include some graphic statements made by the arresting officers,” he said. “If those stories are true, I think something seriously needs to be done with the City of Athens’ training. If they’re not true, then let it come out that it’s not true.”

McGee said his approval of Athens Mayor Steve Patterson’s annual budget was contingent on Patterson agreeing that APD would deploy body cameras. Patterson said the city and police department are looking into costs.

“I have told our police chief, 'Start looking at the costs behind getting them, and let’s move forward with them,' ” he said. “It’s going to be expensive, and he agrees that this is a good expense.”

The city recently passed a tax levy to increase revenue, but the revenue increase from that will come gradually. Patterson expects to reevaluate the budget by June.

“The city auditor has told us in past months, ‘You need to cut your budget,' " he said. “So we’re sitting here scratching our heads.”

The initial cost for the cameras could be $25,000, Patterson said, along with yearly storage and upkeep fees. APD Chief Tom Pyle said costs to store the videos, which are subject to public records requirements, would be substantial because the department has no storage system in place.

In 2016, APD did not spend about $67,000 of its nearly $4 million budget. That money is spread across several funds, however, some of which have other designated purposes.

APD will be the second local agency to consider the cameras. The Athens County Sheriff’s Office considered body cameras in 2016, but Sheriff Rodney Smith opted to stick with dashboard cameras.

Smith said he didn’t want deputies to be recording video on two different devices, and he had reservations about deputies recording sensitive encounters like domestic abuse investigations. Regardless of whether APD deploys the body cameras, he doubts he will reconsider.

“For now, no, because it’s so expensive,” he said.

Ohio University Police Department Lt. Tim Ryan said his department has no immediate plans to deploy body cameras.

Pyle said he has reservations about body cameras. After the Columbus Division of Police accidentally deleted thousands of cruiser videos, he worried something similar could happen to APD’s body camera footage in the future. He also worries that new regulations will increase the cost for the department after it makes the financial commitment or that legislation could render the cameras useless. He referenced state restrictions that caused some cities to abandon their use of red light cameras after purchasing them.

The department hasn’t made any commitment to the cameras. Members of the city and department are “gathering data and looking at it very patiently,” Pyle said.


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