Columbus Police begin deploying body cameras, community organizations react

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The Columbus Police are deploying the first body cameras that will be worn by officers in the city.

On Wednesday night, police said 12 traffic officers wore them for the first time on duty. Some of that footage was released at a demonstration at the Columbus Police Academy on Thursday.

“What we’re trying to capture is police accountability, be transparent about our actions,” said Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs.

Police and city officials said their goal is to have more than 1,400 officers equipped with the cameras in 3 years, at a total cost of $9 million. They hope to have the traffic bureau and bicycle units using the cameras by the beginning of the summer.

“Body worn cameras make it safer for people on both sides of the camera,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther.

The city and police said body cameras are a two-way street, holding both police and the community accountable.

“It’s not perfect technology, but it helps and I believe it will actually increase our effectiveness and our accuracy,” said Chief Jacobs.

But, groups like the People’s Justice Project and Showing Up For Racial Justice said they’re not convinced the cameras will improve safety in the community.

In a statement, People’s Justice Project member Tammy Fournier-Alsaada said:

As early as 2015, members of the People’s Justice Project expressed our concerns to city officials that body cameras do not necessarily keep communities safe or get justice for victims. Unfortunately, we have only seen more evidence of this over the past year as police shootings across the country were caught on film and still, officers were not held accountable.

A number of us attended the City Council hearings on Columbus’s body cameras, and it remains unclear whether and when footage will be released in the event of a police-involved shooting or who makes that decision. Body cameras are an expensive knee-jerk reaction to the problem of systemic racist police violence, not an evidence-based solution.

People’s Justice Project stands by our demands to the City of Columbus and the Columbus Police Department after the police killings of 23-year-old Henry Green and 13-year-old Tyre King, that the police need greater community and legal accountability and real de-escalation training. We will continue to call on the city to listen to the community and invest in solutions that actually keep us safe.

Tynan Krakoff is with Showing Up For Racial Justice.

“It’s a question of do we need more footage of premature black death and people being hurt or killed by the police instead of solutions that actually prevent it from happening in the first place?” said Krakoff.

He said the cameras aren’t an entirely negative thing, but he said they’re not a solution to police brutality.

“Any solution that just puts more money into the police budget and just increases their surveillance, we don’t see that as a solution to reducing police violence and to making Columbus safe for everyone,” said Krakoff.

Meanwhile, chair of the South Linden Area Commission George Walker Jr., said people in his neighborhood are looking forward to seeing police officers wearing body cameras.

“It’s going to tell the story. What you see is what you’re going to get,” said Walker. “Right now, a lot of the constituents are a little shakey on the police, but the trust after this happens, I think the trust is going to be up to 100%.”

Chief Jacobs said according to policy, officers won’t have much discretion on when to turn on and off their cameras.

“If you’re on a call for service, so if the dispatcher sends you anywhere, it should be on,” she said. “If you are self-initiating activity, an encounter with a citizen, it should be on. If you’re making an arrest it should be on.”

Chief Jacobs said as residents encounter officers, they can expect that their interactions will be recorded in almost all instances.

“I see it as a tool, a great tool with some capabilities,” she said. “It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to tell us everything that we need to know.”

She said they’re trying to capture accountability and be transparent about their actions, but doesn’t count on the cameras to entirely improve police-community relationships.

“There’s a lot of information that the camera can give us, but it doesn’t give us all the information,” said Chief Jacobs. “So, actually building trust is about relationships and you do that face to face.”

Chief Jacobs said officers will have to discuss with a supervisor if they want to turn off their camera, for instances when it might make a citizen more comfortable to turn it off and when they’re not in danger.

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