Hamilton to decide this year whether cops wear body cams. Here’s what that means for the city.

Hamilton to decide this year whether cops wear body cams. Here’s what that means for the city.

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West Chester Twp. Patrol Officer Mark York is wearing one of the 50 newly purchased police body worn cameras. DENISE G. CALLAHAN/STAFF

This will be the year, predicts Police Chief Craig Bucheit, that Hamilton decides whether to equip its police officers with body cameras that record the actions of the law enforcement officers and those they are arresting.

The city recently performed a test and evaluation of its fourth body-cam vendor.

“I would expect that we’re going to get to a decision point this year, in 2018,” Bucheit said.

Hamilton is taking its time because the decision is one that can lock a government into a relationship with a vendor for many years, partly because the companies are responsible for storing the video for long periods of time.

“It really is a huge decision in terms of taxpayer dollars, resources and the allocation of that,” Bucheit said. “So it’s a decision we want to make sure we’re getting right. There’s still a lot of uncertainty around the technology, in terms of best practices and how the hardware, the cameras themselves, are utilized – when you’re recording, when you’re not, how to store that, how do you manage that.

“What are the costs on the back end? Not just the up-front costs in terms of the hardware, but what are the costs on the back end to store, to maintain that (for years to come).”

Across the county, West Chester Township and Oxford are the latest agencies to begin using such cameras.

When using body cameras, “You’re creating potentially hundreds of thousands of hours of records that have to be maintained,” Bucheit said. “So what does that look like? How many people (on staff) does that take? What are the personnel expenses that are associated with that storage?”

Also, he said, there are decisions to make about what videos should be released to the public, the media, and others.

Some early studies found the cameras led to fewer complaints against police and fewer instances of police misconduct, but Bucheit said, “there are studies out there that show that net benefit is a much smaller margin than was initially reported.”

Before implementing a program, if one is put in place, there will be public meetings “to explain this equipment, to explain these issues,” Bucheit said. “What do they have a right to expect?”Also, what kinds of images can they expect to be released after incidents from the videos?

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