Columbus, Ohio, to spend $4.5M to enhance police bodycams

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by: FARNOUSH AMIRI, Associated Press

Posted on Jan 21, 2021/01:14 PM EST
Updated: Jan 21, 2021 / 1:20 PM EST

A protester holds up a sign as Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther speaks during a press conference following a deadly police shootout at Columbus, Ohio City Hall on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. A police officer who shot and killed a black man with a cell phone in the Ohio capital early Tuesday had not previously activated his body camera, nor did the dash cameras on the officers’ cruiser activate. (Joshua A. Bickel / The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Officials in Ohio’s largest city announced Thursday that they plan to invest $ 4.5 million in police body-worn cameras and enact law to ensure that Officials correctly use the cameras after the fatal shooting at Andre Hill last month, a white officer.

“While many of us woke up this morning with a new sense of purposefulness and optimism, a new year and new president does not erase the past or the pain of those who loved Casey Goodson Jr. or Andre Hill,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a briefing Thursday.

Ginther and other city officials announced plans to address police problems resurrected within weeks of the Columbus law enforcement agency’s fatal shooting of Goodson and Hill, both black men.

Goodson, 23, was killed on December 3 by Jason Meade, a deputy sheriff from Franklin County, when he was walking into his grandmother’s home in Columbus. The case is still under criminal investigation.

Three weeks later, on December 23, Hill was fatally shot and killed by town policeman Adam Coy who was responding to an emergency call for someone turning his car on and off in a neighborhood in northwest Columbus. Coy has since been fired.

When Coy arrived, he didn’t turn his camera on after shooting Hill multiple times, officials said. It was just a camera’s lookback function that allowed the public to take a 60-second look at the recording – but with no audio.

Additional bodycam footage released in the following days revealed that no responding officers were there to assist Hill as he lay groaning on a garage floor.

As a result, Ginther said, the city will spend millions to update the Columbus City Police’s body-worn cameras, which were first purchased in 2016, to ensure the city has the footage when it is needed most. The new cameras, due to be released this year, will be picked up without officials having to activate them.

The cameras will also produce better resolution and clarity through wireless technology that will sync with the new dashboard cameras that are being installed, Ginther said.

The upgraded bodycams are automatically activated when an officer leaves a cruiser on a priority call and are available if a case of violence, such as that leading to Hill’s death, occurs during a non-emergency call.

The bodycam changes will not be introduced in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, which currently does not require body cams for their officers. However, the department is covered by the city council’s plans for a law to ensure officials use body cameras accurately and assist victims after using violence against them.

Officials who break the law could face disciplinary action and even criminal charges, said Shannon Hardin, city council president.

“This law will not resolve all police violence, but it is another step in the right direction to ensure that we know what is happening on the ground through bodycam footage and to ensure that police officers provide assistance if residents are injured for those who do not adhere to the fact that there can be greater accountability, ”said Hardin.

The law, called Andre’s Law, is due to be introduced during a council meeting on Monday.

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program in which journalists report undercover issues to local newsrooms.