Lucas County Sheriff’s Office to get body camerasWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Amid the growing backlash to incidents across the country of unarmed subjects being killed by law enforcement officials, Lucas County Sheriff deputies will soon be armed with body cameras.
Deputies have been testing several of the cameras on a trial basis for the past 30 days, but the sheriff’s office will soon be purchasing 15 of the $500 cameras for deputies to use.
Lucas County is set to pass its 2015 budget on Dec. 16, and officials said they wanted to be sure to set aside funds for the cameras.
“In our budget there will be funds available to let Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp purchase and deploy body cameras,” said Pete Gerken, Lucas County commissioner, at a news conference Dec. 15 at One Government Center. “We are taking the step forward before there are incidents in Lucas County like there have been in Ferguson, Missouri, in New York City and in Cleveland, Ohio.
“We don’t want that for our community. What we want for our community is a safe, proactive community where everybody feels the transparency,” Gerken said. “We want no one to shoot, and we want everyone to breathe.”
“This is one more thing that talks about community policing, community safety and the partnership really that exists between the county commissioners, the sheriff’s department, the faith community and people who live in Lucas County,” said Carol Contrada, president of the board of commissioners.
Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp compared the body cameras to the speed cameras placed along the Anthony Wayne Trail in that they will cause all involved parties to think twice about their actions.
“It really forces law enforcement officials to be on our best behavior,” Tharp said.
“This will increase professionalism to another level and people in the community, they too will be on their best behavior. … We will be totally open with the community and provide all of the information that we have on the cameras.”
Tharp said the cameras will also help with criminal investigations, with footage potentially serving as evidence in trials.
Pending expected commissioner approval of the expenditure up to $20,000, Tharp said the cameras will be purchased by the office within the next 30 days.
Rev. Donald Perryman, pastor at Center of Hope Community Baptist Church, 1656 Dorr St., was at the news conference to represent the faith community.
“I want to commend Sheriff Tharp and the commissioners for their attention to this issue,” Perryman said. “Statistically, unarmed black men, women and children are killed by law enforcement at extraordinary rates compared to others. … The irony is that unarmed blacks are dying at record numbers, but seldom if ever are their killers held accountable in courts of law.”
Perryman said the cameras are not a solution, but a positive first step in improving relations between law enforcement and the community.
“While body cameras are not a panacea, today’s action represents an important first step in bringing more accountability to the criminal justice system,” he said. “I look forward to the ongoing fight and open dialogue that can lead to other policy changes that will improve relations between law enforcement and the community.”
Perryman noted that even though incidents such as the Eric Garner case in New York City were filmed, there were no criminal charges filed after he died following the altercation with police.
“I am looking to see what impact this might have on convictions,” Perryman said. “We need a comprehensive change in the entire criminal justice system. We have to bring accountability to officers. This might be a first step, but we need people being punished for doing wrong.”
Sgt. Richard Grove of the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office has been among those using the cameras for the past month.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “It gives a fair representation of what we do on a daily basis.”
Grove said the officers have been using the cameras on a case-by-case basis while on duty and to this point have not been informing citizens when the cameras are recording.
Tharp said the office will soon establish its policies regarding the cameras prior to their widespread use among deputies.