Police shooting reinforces need for body cameras
Some members of Warren City Council have been adamant in their call to equip that city’s police officers with body cameras.
In the name of transparency and oversight, we agree.
Past conversations in Warren on this topic have wrapped up mostly with questions about cost — primarily, we suspect, about cost of the associated legacy costs that include things like storage fees; staffing to ensure archived videos remain accessible or editing them for release according to Ohio Sunshine laws; and any other related recurring software licensing fees. We realize these never-ending costs must not be taken lightly.
However, when considering the important value that body cameras offer in investigating incidents, it might be argued these costs are justifiable — particularly in light of last week’s police-involved fatal shooting of a Warren man, David Lee Rigg, at his southwest-side home.
At the time of this writing, the only footage of the shooting known to exist is from the cellphones of neighbors or other onlookers who had gathered nearby as police surrounded the home during a standoff leading up to the shooting.
Whether Rigg was carrying a gun in his hand has not been made clear, and the cellphone footage that we’ve seen has been so poorly lit and grainy that it is impossible to determine the answer to that very important question.
Further, our reporter still awaits response from Warren city for his public record request for any and all police cruiser dash camera video from the night of the shooting. We realize even if dash camera video does exist, it may not have captured the shooting as well as a camera might have if it were mounted on the uniform of a police officer facing the suspect as he emerged from his home.
In the past months and even years, some members of city council have been clear in their calls for body cameras. Especially adamant have been Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, and Helen Rucker, D-at Large.
“I warned at that time it was just a matter of time before something like this would happen,” Rucker said last week. “Having cameras adds a level of protection for police officers. With the video evidence from cameras, the chief will immediately know what occurred, even before a (state Bureau of Criminal Investigation) report is completed.”
Rucker vowed to continue the fight and said finances should not be a deterrent.
We agree, and we urge council to revisit the issue again, this time with the insistence that efforts be made to find the necessary funds.
Indeed, grant money may be sought, but we know it’s not guaranteed the department will be successful in obtaining grants. And if it is, it is extremely unlikely those grants will be recurring permanently.
Certainly, local money will be needed for funding. With limited budgets, those funds likely will be redirected from other allocations. Yes, body cameras will create a public record of incidents that can be used to record and help outline the details of incidents that can be used later for investigative purposes.
One suggestion offered by Rucker included the possibility of purchasing a limited numbers of cameras that can be shared among shifts. That’s a good starting point.
Last week, even Warren police Chief Eric Merkel stated in a social media post that his department is continuing “to pursue the implementation of body-worn cameras throughout our agency.”
Ultimately, it is council that controls city spending, and it is council that must make the hard decisions on how to fund this very important project.
We believe council should. We also believe, however, allocating funds to camera startup or legacy costs should not mean redirecting funds from other necessary basic police services.