Miami U spends $16K for police body cameras

Staff Writer Eric Robinette contributed to this story.

Next time you visit Miami University, smile, because you could be on camera.

Miami University Police Department has purchased roughly $16,000 worth of body cameras for police officers, who will add the gadgets to their uniforms within the next two months. The agency purchased 23 body cameras for officers.

The university police are the first in Butler County to buy the equipment, although other police agencies are testing body cameras.

“My sense is that if we’re talking two or three years from now, body cameras are going to be a standard piece of equipment,” said MU Police Chief John McCandless. “I don’t think they’re a phase. I think communities are going to demand that level of accountability from police.”

McCandless said agency officials spent roughly one year testing out body cameras before settling on a model that costs roughly $720 per camera and measures a little larger than a pager.

Recently, body cameras have been hailed as a solution for strengthening community-police relations, in the wake of several high-profile officer shootings of unarmed black males last year. In December, President Barack Obama announced a three-year plan to dole out $75 million for cities around the country to purchase equipment for roughly 50,000 body cameras.

The Miami police department, McCandless said, is likely too small to qualify for federal funding.

Police officers are waiting to use the cameras on patrol until the college has developed a written policy for the devices. McCandless said that policy will dictate who has access to the videos taken on the camera, how the videos are stored and when an officer is allowed to turn off the cameras.

McCandless said the agency has taken cues on how video will be used for evidence purposes from Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser.

Gmoser said he supports police departments who want to use body cameras.

“From my experience with evidence, which is what prosecutors deal with, having more is better than less,” Gmoser said of video evidence the body cameras will collect.

Other agencies in Butler County and around Ohio are also testing the equipment.

Ohio State University police officers, for example, began piloting body cameras in September and the department expects more officers to be wearing them soon. University of Cincinnati also bought 80 body cameras last fall for patrol officers to use.

The Monroe Police Department hopes to pick out body camera equipment later this year, Lt. Brian Curlis said. He said companies are rolling out new body cameras constantly, which makes it hard to decide which device to purchase.

“We’re still looking at them,” Curlis said. “Technology is constantly changing. Literally, every month, a new version of the camera is coming out. We’ve seen an explosion in that. There’s a lot of new product coming online and you’re going to be stuck with it for a while.”

Also, the city is trying to figure how to store video from the cameras because buying new web servers, which store the data, can be costly. Miami’s police department is at an advantage because the college is well-equipped with servers for an entire campus, McCandless said.

The Oxford Police Department is also actively looking at purchasing body cameras this year, the chief said.

Other departments, however, aren’t buying in just yet.

Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones said he’s not convinced body cameras will help law enforcement. He wants to see how other agencies use them before thinking about spending money on the devices.

“We’ll see how this evolves,” Jones said. “It’s like when a new car is being produced, you don’t want to buy the first model.”