Body cameras for deputies should be priority of county officials

The job of a law enforcement officer is to serve and protect the public. At the same time, they are expected to be accountable for their actions. That’s why a growing number of police agencies are using body cameras, which record interactions between officers and the public.

Columbus Police Department received approval for $66,000 to buy 65 body cameras and a video storage system from the city council in March 2015. It rolled out use of body cameras with its patrol officers in the spring of 2015, and by the end of the year all three shifts were using them.

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department would like to begin using a similar system in the near future, too. Sheriff Matt Myers intends to ask the county commissioners and county council for funding to buy 30 body cameras for deputies as part of a broader $500,000 request that includes data storage, new radio units and three to five additional deputies.

When it comes time later in the summer for county officials to begin discussing next year’s budget, they should make the body cameras a priority. In a way, that’s already been done.

Last year the Bartholomew County Council said it would support buying 40 body cameras at $180 each. However, testing proved the cameras being considered to be inadequate for the department’s needs.

Myers has indicated that he will ask county officials for funding for Vievu or Motorola body cameras, which range in price from $800 to $1,200 per unit — a total cost of $24,000 to $36,000 for the cameras. Myers said he would ask for funding from a $1.036 million telecommunications fund controlled by the commissioners, and the general fund controlled by the county council.

While Myers will seek a greater amount of funding, body cameras have proven to be worth the investment.

Since Columbus Police Department began testing the cameras and officially using them, use-of-force incidents by officers declined in both 2014 and 2015. The department said that when police officers have their body cameras activated, people they are dealing with tend to tone down their behavior and be more cooperative, thus reducing the possibility that use of force would be needed. That’s a win-win situation for police and the public.

The body cameras also aid accountability and investigations.

With city police officers already using body cameras while patrolling the streets, it makes sense for the remainder of county’s law enforcement officers to have the same tools to aid them.

County officials should find a way to make this possible.