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Peter Kotses and City Council President Chris Knisely before an Athens City Council Meeting on Monday, August 27, 2018.

City Council: Athens Police Department ask legislation for body cams; Uptown parking garage may see renovations

Athens Police Department Chief Tom Pyle asked Athens City Council on Monday to introduce legislation that will allow the police department to purchase 20 body-worn cameras for police officers. 

Pyle said the proposed five-year contract with Axon, the company that already provides the department’s Tasers, would be all-encompassing to include vital software, officer re-training services and equipment insurance should a Taser or body-worn camera break. He also said the contract would cost the city roughly $44,000 each year, which is already incorporated into this year’s budget. 

“This program not only includes the not-yet-released Body 3 cameras, which is top-of-the-line technology with image stabilization which should assist image capture, but gives us the chance to upgrade to the not-yet-released Taser 7, which is also top of the line,” Pyle said. 

The cameras resemble a GoPro and weigh about 3 ½ ounces, Pyle said. He provided a hypothetical situation to showcase the cameras’ advanced technology: if five police officers are in a tense situation and one of them deploys his or her Taser, every body-worn camera in the area will automatically turn on and record. He said they are also able to recover up to nine minutes of footage prior to activation. 

Pyle said they have also spoken to Axon about including emergency vehicle aspects into the contract. If the lights or sirens are switched on in a dispatched car, any regional officer’s camera will be automatically activated.

If the contract comes to fruition, Pyle said he would like to train more than the 20 officers the contract covers. This training would come at an additional cost. He said the department will likely train 25 or 26 officers; however, with the 20 officers the contract covers, 18 would be patrolling officers and 2 would be investigative officers. 

Pyle said neighboring departments that work with Axon are very pleased with the company’s service. 

“I think that one of the biggest factors to get a quote from Axon was the fact a lot of our peer agencies in southeast Ohio areas, the ones that have body-worn cameras, have ones from Axon,” Pyle said. “For instance, Logan Police Department is an Axon agency, Logan, Chillicothe, to name a few.” 

City Council initially discussed body-worn cameras in February 2018, but ultimately tabled the discussion because the amount of data-sifting required to comply with public record laws would be too timely and expensive.

The council’s transportation committee also discussed potential renovations to the Athens’ uptown parking garage. The garage was improved in previous years and cost $2 million, but those changes were solely structural. Now, the mayor’s administration will be asking $600,000 for aesthetic improvements. 

Changes to the parking garage may include new lighting, color-coded levels and exposed stairways. New and improved signage would also be implemented in the garage to provide clarity and indicate how many parking spots remain in the garage. 

“The stairwells are the other major complaint about the parking garage,” Mayor Steve Patterson said. “That they’re scary, people don’t want to walk up them at nighttime because they’re closed off, and that they smell bad, because people pee in them.”

While current design documents do not recognize the artwork on the side of the parking garage, the transportation committee considered implementing the “essence of Athens” into the final renovation plans. 

Patterson said if the stairway was to include murals pertaining to Athens, people would be more willing to use them, instead of walking up the ramps that may be more dangerous. 

Councilman Peter Kotses, D-At Large, raised the question that this remodeling could cause the parking garage to see some “serious closures,” which Patterson said would be written into the contract to occur at a particular time, likely in the summer. 

If these changes are approved by the council, Patterson said he hopes they will be completed by fall of 2020. 


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