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Louisville Police Embrace Body Cameras; Columbus Wavers

After some high profile incidents, pressure is mounting on police officers to wear body cameras.  Mayoral candidate Andrew Ginther is forcing the issue here in Columbus. The city council president wants all officers to wear them by the start of 2017. Officers in other cities have already started wearing them.

Ginther wants all of the city's 1800 officers to wear cameras attached to their bodies.

"Body cameras are going to help protect the lives of police officers and I think build trust with the community that they serve," Ginther recently said.

But Ginther is nearly alone in his enthusiasm for the program.

Police Chief Kim Jacobs is skeptical. She worries about privacy and cost but concedes the cameras will make police behavior more transparent.

"Recording events is sometimes beneficial in making people be on better behavior than they might otherwise have been," Jacobs said.

Other cities have already started using police body cameras.

The Louisville Police Department is phasing in a body cameras. Major Robert Schroeder says so far more than half of the city's 1250 officers use them.

Schroeder says privacy laws differ state by state. He says every city that has adopted body cameras has struggled with the issue since there is no national privacy standard. In Kentucky, Schroeder says police have the right to record anywhere they have a legal right to be, but they have drawn a line at the front door.

"Say I go to your house on a domestic violence run, anything that's in the public area is fair game within our statutes but once I cross that threshold to your house, we're considering that to be part of the privacy exemption to our statute," Schroeder explained.

Schroeder says there is no case law on the books regarding police video inside someone's house so privacy limitations may be modified down the line.

Columbus officials say they worry about the cost - and cite estimates as high as $15 million to start the program, and $6 million dollars a year to operate it.

Louisville opted to go with a company called Taser to provide the cameras and cloud based video storage at a total cost of just under three million dollars for the first year. Data storage will cost about one-million dollars a year after that.

While Schroeder was hesitant to weigh in on the Columbus situation, but he says it is important that everyone concerned be on board with the program.

"I think it's critically important and in our case certainly our entire team all across the board was on board from the get go. So that made to us. But another issue I would bring up it is important to have a, I don't know if your local police has a union, a bargaining group or anything like that but it's highly important that they become involved as well," Schroeder said.

That might bring up another problem for City Council President Andrew Ginther's plan here in Columbus.

Columbus FOP President Jason Pappas.

"At the end of the day, I don't think the cameras make the officers any safer," Pappas said.

After a number of high profile police involved shootings here in Ohio and around the country, equipping police here in Columbus with body cameras may be inevitable down the line. And in the end, Louisville's Schroeder says it may be much ado about nothing.

"I'll be honest with you, I'm extremely happy with it. Normally when you do a project of this magnitude, involving technology like this, you run into a tremendous array of issues and challenges and while we've had a few , you know, knocks and bumps along the way this project has run incredibly smoothly. The implementation has been far easier than I ever imagined it would be," Schroeder said.

While Ginther's plan may face a number of local hurdles, in the end it may not matter. Members of the Ohio House are currently putting together legislation that may require all law enforcement officers in the state to wear body cameras.