Columbus Police Department is getting a body camera upgrade.
The department is roughly halfway through a five-year contract with camera manufacturer Axon, which includes an upgrade to a newer model camera at no extra cost.
The first batch of 50 new cameras arrived on Tuesday, and police and city officials have spent the week familiarizing themselves with the equipment before officers begin training with them this week. CPD will receive 87 total cameras, which will allow the department to have backups and cameras to assign to its reserve officers.
CPD pays $62,000 per year through its contract with Axon, according to city Public Information Officer Joe Dillon. That contract includes cameras, repairs, support services, off-site server space to store video files and an upgrade within the five-year contract cycle.
Greg Drake, with the city’s information technology department, said the new cameras — the Axon Body 2 — boast a range of improvements over the original Axon Body models. They have a 12- to 14-hour battery life and can record up to 70 hours of video, depending on the resolution. They offer a 143-degree field of view and can record in 480p (standard definition) or 720 or 1080p — two high-definition resolutions.
CPD is also looking to upgrade support equipment for the cameras that should help ensure footage is recorded even if an officer forgets to manually trigger the camera. For example, the department will use signal trigger devices with the cameras that can set them to automatically begin recording at certain times.
“If we decide for the trigger to be when the (vehicle) door opens for the camera to come on, it will,” Drake said. “If the lights come on, the cameras come on — whatever triggers the signal is going to trigger all the cameras within 30 feet. If there are other officers, their cameras are going to be turned on also.”
Assistant Police Chief Fred Shelton told The Dispatch on Friday the new equipment should help CPD keep pace in an increasingly-technology focused world.
Shelton said the cameras can be a more effective tool for keeping a record of crime scenes, which are constantly changing after an incident, than still photos. And they allow officers to review incidents as they happened.
“The world is changing and we’re moving to a more technological atmosphere,” Shelton said. “It stands to reason the police department would move up with better equipment.”
CPD Director of Training Elizabeth Patrick said the new cameras can be paired with an iPhone app and are GPS-enabled, which allows officers to track where incidents happen.
Drake said the city is also looking into buying Axon Fleet dashboard cameras to install in its police vehicles. Details of costs and when they might arrive are unclear, but Drake said they may come by the end of the year. CPD already has much of the support equipment needed for those cameras.
The dash cameras would be the first CPD has used since 2014, Drake said. They record both what’s ahead of the car and what’s happening in the cabin.
Drake said the dash cameras, when they arrive, will work with the same systems the body cameras use.
“I don’t want to piecemeal and have one thing from one vendor and another thing from someone else,” he said. “The signal triggers work with the Fleet system. So if we go ahead and get the signal triggers now, that will subtract from the cost of the Fleet system.”
CPD first deployed body cameras in February 2015. They have an expected lifespan of about two to three years.
The city strengthened CPD’s body camera policy two months after the Oct. 16, 2015, shooting death of Ricky Ball by former CPD officer Canyon Boykin — who was ultimately terminated, in part, for not activating his body camera during the incident. Officers Yolanda Young and Johnny Branch, who were also present during the Ball incident and also did not activate their body cameras, were suspended for 30 days without pay.
Under the new policy, officers are required to activate their body cameras for any interaction with the public, and those videos are uploaded to Axon’s server at the end of each shift. All body camera footage is stored on the server for at least one year.
Officers who fail to follow the policy face a 10-day suspension without pay for a first offense; a 30-day suspension or termination for a second offense; and termination for a third offense.
Since the policy went into effect, at least one officer has been suspended for 10 days for failing to meet its standards, according to city council meeting minutes.
Shelton said officers have taken well to using the cameras and following the city’s policy. But, he noted he doesn’t view the cameras and the associated policies only as a way to discipline officers. He said they can be a tool to improve officer performance, especially with growing national pressure for police departments to focus on situation de-escalation.
“It helps us improve because it’s like a mirror we can look into and say ‘maybe I could do this that way, or there’s something I missed,'” he said. “It’s a quality assurance thing that we can use to train ourselves to do a more efficient job for the community.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.