COLUMBUS — A bill introduced Friday in the Ohio legislature would require law enforcement agencies to have rules governing the use of body cameras and to make such policies be publicly available.
Cities such as Cleveland and others around Ohio have purchased body cameras for police departments or are considering them, but there is no statewide requirement.
In Clinton County, Wilmington Police Chief Duane Weyand in his 2016 budget requested two body cameras, and he hopes to add four more in 2017. He stated benefits would include gathering evidence, managing risk, evaluating situations, adding accountability, protecting officers from false claims, as a cheaper alternative to dash cams, and also because residents now expect them. He added it will also help with training.
The legislation from Reps. Kevin Boyce, a Columbus Democrat, and Cheryl Grossman, a Grove City Republican, would not mandate the use of body cameras.
Under their proposal, agencies that do use body cameras must have a written policy overseeing them. It does not outline specific procedures for when the cameras should be on, who should wear them and who would have access to the footage. But those subjects must be included in the policies and accessible to the public.
The sponsors told their colleagues in a co-sponsor request letter that the bill gives agencies flexibility in crafting rules for cameras while providing transparency.
“As we have observed, trust between law enforcement and the people they serve and protect is critical to not only the stability of our communities but also the integrity of our criminal justice system,” they wrote in an October memo.
Boyce said Friday there are some inconsistencies in body camera polices around the state, and the bill would create a basic platform.
“It creates more of a structure and framework around the use of body cameras,” he said in an interview.
The legislation comes as a law enforcement relations board created by Gov. John Kasich is developing a standard for the use of police body cameras.
The statewide standard from the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board will involve privacy, operations, public records and other issues.
Boyce also has been working on a separate bill that would mandate that police in Ohio have body cameras, though funding for the equipment continues to remain a question. “That’s the big issue,” he said.
Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, said the organization had no problems with the bill introduced Friday.
“Every policy is already a public record,” McDonald said. He added, “No one is going to drop these things (cameras) out there without a policy.”
The News Journal’s Tom Barr contributed to this report.