Hamilton, Oxford, Oxford Twp. win state grants for police body cams

FILE: All Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers will get body cameras soon, the governor announced on Tuesday, Nov. 23.

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FILE: All Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers will get body cameras soon, the governor announced on Tuesday, Nov. 23.

Oxford and Oxford Township each received state grants they will use to upgrade the body video cameras and systems their police officers have been wearing for years. Hamilton also received money from the Ohio Body-Worn Camera Grant Program to begin a program.

“Oxford Township, we were actually one of the first in the county, back in 2014, to have body cameras,” said Patrick Piccioni, the interim police chief there. He applied for a state grant to upgrade them to Axon cameras and was awarded $10,547.

“We would be able to have cameras even if we didn’t get the grant,” but the Piccioni said. “This was just to improve what we already have in the township.”

The Axon upgrade also allows for use of cloud storage of recordings.

“The cameras that we have are good quality,” Piccioni said. “They see infrared, so they are night-vision also.”

The cameras have worked well, he said: “Our prosecutor loves the fact that we all have cameras, so it helps in prosecuting cases that we have,” Piccioni said. Also, “the citizen complaints are dramatically down. When we first got them in, people really didn’t know that we did have them, and we would get some complaints abuse, like normal, when somebody got arrested or they felt like somebody didn’t talk to them the right way.”

When people had such complaints against the 10-officer department, “They would come in and talk with the chief, or myself — I was sergeant at the time — and we would say, ‘I understand your complaint. Let’s look into this, and why don’t we pull up the body camera, and let’s take a look and see what the officer did,’” Piccioni said.

“And their response was, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you guys had cameras. Well, nevermind,’ and walked out,” he said.

He noted the camera only catches one view of a situation, but, “They have saved a lot of officers around this world with issues with body cameras,” Piccioni said. Some officers didn’t take to the cameras at first, “But once they realized it’s to protect them while they’re at work in the community, they got to get more comfortable with it.”

Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit, who predicted early last year that Hamilton would have the cameras by late 2021, was not available to comment Tuesday on the $81,776 grant his city received.

Bucheit told the Journal-News in October he had applied for federal and state grants for the cameras, and have had dash cams for decades. Asked at the time if the city can proceed without the outside funding he said they will have to “cross that bridge” when they come to it.

The city of Oxford, which has used body cams since January of 2018, and like the township also recently moved to to Axon cameras, won $31,451 for its 28 officers to make upgrades related to that, mostly with software, said Police Chief John Jones. The systems let officers tie the camera system into the computer system and make other time-saving improvements.

“We’re just switching camera companies, so it’s coming at the right time,” Jones said, noting the city planned to move ahead with that even without the grant.

The cameras make his department more transparent, Jones said.

They also have “improved our report writing, our testimony in court,” Jones said. “If somebody calls to compain on an officer, we can go right to the camera and see what happened in that case.”

The cameras also can be good training tools, he said.

“Someone who’s saying that an officer didn’t treat them well, or may have shown some disrespect, you can go right to that camera and kind of see for yourself, a third party so to speak, and watch the interaction,” Jones said. “And oftentimes, it exonerates the officer. But sometimes I think it also shows when the officer could have done a better job, or it supports what the citizen says,” and discipline or corrective actions can happen.

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