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Franklin County deputies to don body cameras

Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Ray Santiago shows off the patrol's new body camera system.
Ohio State Highway Patrol
Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Ray Santiago shows off the patrol's new body camera system.

Deputies in Franklin County will be equipped this fall with body-worn cameras after Franklin County commissioners Tuesday voted to approve a $2.5 million contract to fund the program.

Franklin County's 565 sheriff's deputies will start donning Motorola WatchGuard police body cameras most of the time they are on duty. Now that the contract has been approved, WatchGuard Video will start producing the equipment.

The company is expected to start installing technology and offering training from July to September before deputies go live with the cameras in October.

Money from the county's general fund and a $232,000 state grant will pay for the cameras, storage of the footage and a five-year service contract.

Commissioners also implemented a policy governing the use of the cameras and the release of the footage to the public. And, commissioners passed a resolution to hold public meetings to garner community input on the policy.

"There isn't a perfect policy, but we do think this a really good start. But there may be things that missed that we may need to take under consideration and so, we want to be able to have input from the community,” said Commissioner Erica Crawley.

Crawley said the policy stands above others. To create the policy, the sheriff’s office, the prosecutor’s office, the county administrator’s office and the commissioners’ office worked together. And, they reviewed other policies in place locally and nationally, Crawley said.

The tech includes the ability to record audio and video five minutes before a deputy starts recording.

"I haven't been in a situation yet, but as a Black woman, who has concerns just like a lot of people in the community every day I do think about how this could be impactful for me. What I do like about the current policy is that there is a five-minute look-back feature. We need that for full transparency. As a community member, I want to know what happened leading up to an encounter or a critical incident,” she said.

Columbus police have cameras that feature the ability to look back two-minutes before the devices start recording, Crawley said.

Another perk of the policy is that it give the sheriff's office flexibility, Crawley said. While the majority of the cameras will go to road deputies, the sheriff can require corrections officers to wear them.

In some older detention facilities, there are areas with blind spots, where the sheriff may want employees to wear the cameras, Crawley said.

The cameras will provide “evidence, accountability, transparency and training,” Crawley said.

“Nothing is more important to the operation of a fair and effective criminal justice system than the belief in the community that officers are held to a high standard and that the law is enforced equally,” said Commissioner John O’Grady. “These cameras will help us reinforce that mutual trust and respect between deputies and our residents.”

The county began considering body cameras for the deputies years ago at the urging of Sheriff Dallas Baldwin, county officials said Tuesday morning.

But it wasn't until after the shooting death of local man Casey Goodson Jr. in December 2020, by a now-former Franklin County sheriff’s deputy, that the county commissioners committed to spending $2.5 million to create the program.

Goodson was shot six times as he walked into his Northland-area home.

The former deputy Jason Meade faces charges of murder and reckless homicide in the case.

“This has been quite a journey,” said county administrator Kenneth Wilson said. “It’s easy to talk about purchasing this equipment, but you have to do it right.”

The effort was concentrated on “accountability and transparency,” Wilson said, and to increase the safety of both residents and deputies.

Sheriff Baldwin said Tuesday the development of the program wasn’t always easy, but said the cameras are a “great tool for law enforcement,” and for the type of transparency that should increase the public’s “faith” in the department.

“In our effort to build a bridge of trust between law enforcement and the community, this is an important step forward," Baldwin said.

The videos produced by the cameras will be public records. If the sheriff’s office wants to withhold or redact footage, the request will go through the prosecutor’s office and a legal opinion generated, according to the policy. If the two offices do not agree on how to proceed, a hearing with the county commissioners will be held.

“As with a lot of things, the devil is in the details when it comes to how these cameras are employed, when videos are to be redacted or released, and how our deputies are expected to use them,” said Commissioner Kevin L. Boyce. “We’ve worked hard with the sheriff’s office and county prosecutor to carefully craft a policy that I think protects the privacy of residents and deputies and will ensure transparency about the cameras, recordings, and how they will be used or made public.”

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.