Orrville Police Department start using body cameras

After months of preparation, the Orrville Police Department has brought its program of using body cameras fully online.

While the department began acquiring and moving into using the cameras last fall, it has only recently completed writing all the protocols for their use and delegating responsibilities for various aspects of their operation.

Capt. Matt Birkbeck said the department's initial exposure to the cameras came as a result of its participation in the Click It or Ticket seat belt use campaign. He said in past years, the Ohio Department of Public Safety had offered new radar guns to departments as an incentive for cooperation. This time, however, it also offered body cameras.

Patrolman Mitchell Zimmerman became the first Orrville officer to test a camera, and Chief Dino Carozza said the department was impressed with the device that has 180 degrees of high-definition vision.

"The results were very good, and we were very impressed with the quality of the footage," said Carozza, who noted with so many situations occurring nationally in which police officers have to defend their behavior and decisions, "we decided we didn't want to be behind on this. The dynamics of things helped push us into it."

Birkbeck said the cameras will be invaluable because "you can't ever predict what an officer is walking into, or what people are going to do. An officer can only use his best judgment."

Birkbeck said the department has adopted a policy of not turning the cameras on when responding to a medical emergency or an event that will almost certainly be non-criminal in nature.

He noted a particularly interesting feature of the cameras -- which cost $400 each -- is "buffering," which puts them into a semi-sleep mode where they continue to "see," but without audio. When an officer turns the camera on, it has actually recorded what it has seen for 30 seconds earlier, but without audio.

Carozza said he likes the cameras because, it's pretty hard to dispute claims when you can see the results on a screen." He noted officers have no ability to edit or delete footage.

Birkbeck said at the end of an officer's shift, he places the camera in a dock where its contents are downloaded so they can be available to prosecutors or other law enforcement officials. At the same time, the camera is recharged.

All of the vast amount of footage generated by the department's 16 cameras is sent to cloud storage by an organization called Evidence.com, and while Carozza said he doesn't know what the costs of the long-term storage will be, he said it is "not cheap." He noted it will take a year before the department knows how to budget for those expenses.

Carozza and Birkbeck said the cameras are paying off and providing evidence with which to convict criminals.

A case in point would be a recent incident in which an officer confronted a suspect wanted on a warrant, and when she attempted to take him into custody, he fled. As the officer and two Medway Drug Enforcement Agency agents who were doing surveillance nearby chased the suspect, he pulled out a loaded gun, which he tossed away as officers closed in.

The suspect later denied having the gun and tossing it, but Birkbeck said the camera footage shows him doing it.

Carozza said another benefit of the camera is it allows more senior officers to watch the performance of a new officer and critique how he handles various situations.

"It enables us to help coach new officers and make sure they are not developing any bad habits," said Carozza.

In addition, Birkbeck noted, the cameras will have an impact on the overall behavior of the officers when they see themselves on the tape. He predicted it will make the officers behave in a more gentlemanly manner, knowing their behavior may be viewed by a jury, attorneys and other members of law enforcement.

Looking at the process of working into using the body cameras, Birkbeck said, "it's gone a lot smoother than we planned, but it's the end results of using these that will be important."

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