Last year, when a Greenwood police officer made the decision to shoot a man who had stabbed his girlfriend and was standing over her with a knife, preparing to stab her again, his body camera caught the entire encounter.
Based on that evidence, Greenwood Police Sgt. Eric McElhaney was cleared by the prosecutor and the shooting was ruled justified within three days.
“I reviewed the video and have not seen a more clear-cut case of the proper use of deadly force in my 22 years of reviewing police action shootings,” Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper said in a statement at the time.
That case, along with others locally and across the nation, prompted the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office to get 68 cameras for its 56 deputies, two employees that serve warrants and reserve deputies. And now, Franklin Police are planning to equip officers with body cameras in 2019.
Local police departments have been considering getting body-worn cameras for officers for years, but the cost of both the devices and storage of the videos were a significant concern. Last year, Greenwood police entered a five-year, $340,000 contract to get new cameras and Tasers for every road officer and unlimited storage space for video, with a large chunk of the cost paid for with cash seized in drug investigations.
The sheriff’s office used those same funds to pay for the cameras and software that will redact information, such as the faces of children, that should not be publicly released — a cost of about $58,000, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
But the cost remains a concern, especially the price tag to store all of those videos, Cox said.
Right now, the sheriff’s office has paid for storage through the rest of Cox’s term as sheriff. When a new sheriff takes office in 2019, he or she will need to decide whether to continue using body cameras and how to pay for the costs, including video storage, Cox said.
The cost has also been a key concern for the Franklin Police Department, which has been considering getting body cameras for nearly three years. Chief Tim O’Sullivan shares the sheriff’s view on the Greenwood case from last year, and has made the decision to move ahead with getting body camera’s for the department’s 49 officers.
Franklin police officers also want the cameras, and some have gone out and bought their own, which they can’t currently use while on-duty because the police department doesn’t have a policy for using them, O’Sullivan said.
“It is a necessary tool and it is my goal to get them,” O’Sullivan said.
But getting them likely won’t happen until at least 2019, O’Sullivan said.
The estimates he has gotten for the cameras, software and video storage is about $250,000, which would need to be an extra expense for the city since he doesn’t have that amount in the police department’s $4.3 million budget, O’Sullivan said.
But the top priority right now is to replace officers’ emergency radios, also a cost of about $250,000. The plan is to buy the radios next year, and then buy the cameras in 2019, O’Sullivan said.
In addition to the cost, O’Sullivan and other officials have been concerned about having the proper policies and training for how to use the cameras and when to release video to the public. For example, if an officer doesn’t turn on the camera when he or she is supposed to, what is the appropriate discipline, O’Sullivan asked.
Those are issues the police department will need to decide before the cameras are purchased, he said.
The sheriff’s office has created some policies, such as requiring deputies to turn on their cameras during a traffic stop or during investigations. But the program is in its infancy, and more details will need to be worked out, Cox said.
But local officials know the cameras are useful.
A deputy may have already captured useful video, such as if someone tries to sue the sheriff’s office or makes an allegation against a staff member, Cox said.
The cameras also increase the public’s trust in police and can exonerate officers from false or malicious complaints, O’Sullivan said. That and the ability to use the video if an officer is ever involved in a shooting or other situation where force is used are the two driving factors to getting the cameras, O’Sullivan said.
But at the same time, O’Sullivan also wants to be careful with the type of cameras he buys. If a camera is a high-definition device, it could capture video showing an image that is better than the human eye — meaning the officer wouldn’t have been able to see the same view. O’Sullivan wants to be sure the cameras are realistic, and a good tool that would help his department, he said.
“It’s something I want and I think it’s a valuable tool,” O’Sullivan said.