The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, July 29, 2020 1:00 am

City police to wear body cams by 2022

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

All uniformed Fort Wayne police officers will be required to wear body cameras while on duty by the end of 2022, under an ordinance City Council approved Tuesday night.

The ordinance was approved in an 8-1 vote after a nearly 90-minute discussion, during which council members heard from representatives of the local Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and Police Chief Steve Reed.

The body cameras proposal was sponsored by council members Sharon Tucker, D-6th, Michelle Chambers, D-at large, and Russ Jehl, R-2nd.

Tucker said Reed and the two police unions were consulted while crafting the ordinance, as were attorneys for the City Council and city administration.

“I think we hit synergy,” she said.

Chambers said the nation has reached a point where body cameras are necessary.

Jehl said “it's time to put our money where our mouths are,” noting that body cameras for Fort Wayne police officers were first promised six years ago.

Implementing mandatory body cameras, Tucker said, will benefit officers and the public.

“They promote accountability not only from the officer who is handling a situation, but also from the citizen when they know a body cam is there and exists,” she said.

Body cameras might save the city money. Tucker said research found that for every dollar spent on body cameras, the city could save up to $4 defending against complaints from citizens.

The footage can be used for training purposes, and Tucker also said the cameras can help deter crime.

“One of the things that we found is that when criminals know they're being recorded, they're more apt to follow the instructions of police officers,” she said.

Under the ordinance, the Fort Wayne Police Department must “update and amend” existing body camera policies to note the circumstances when the cameras must be activated. The policy must also identify the disciplinary actions that will be taken if an officer fails to follow that policy.

The police department is also required to submit a quarterly report to the City Council to outline progress implementing the body camera program. Also, if the police department fails to satisfy the ordinance's requirements, “the administration of the city of Fort Wayne or Common Council may request an order to comply ... from Allen County Superior or Circuit Court.”

The ordinance gives the police department until the end of the year to complete an ongoing digital evidence project, which includes body cameras. After that, at least 100 officers will be equipped with cameras by the end of 2021. Full implementation is expected no later than Dec. 31, 2022.

Phasing in the cameras, Tucker said, will allow officers to be appropriately trained on the cameras' usage and to integrate the devices into the department's existing systems.

Funding will be included in the department's annual budget, but the council also encourages the city to look for grants to help offset the cost, Tucker added.

None of the law enforcement representatives said they oppose the ordinance outright, but some did state concerns regarding privacy and situations where the cameras could be turned off. Those situations included conversations with spouses and moments when officers are using the restroom while on duty.

Those concerns should be addressed as the department readies its permanent body camera policy, Tucker said.

“We're leaving that discretion to the chief of police. They currently have a policy, and we're leaving the discretion of any policy language to be written by the chief of police, because that's frankly what we have him there for,” she said.

Steve Espinoza, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, cautioned the council that cameras are not a cure-all. Depending on where a camera is located on an officer's body, the view could be obstructed.

“There's no perfect place to have the camera on your body, because everybody is built differently,” he said.

Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, was the only council member to vote against the ordinance. Arp said he doesn't oppose body cameras, but approving the ordinance now sends a message that unruly behavior will be rewarded.

The police department was already “on a path to doing exactly what you're asking for,” he said.

“This gives the appearance that we're giving in to bullies. The city was punched in the nose when people decided to come downtown and break windows,” Arp said. “And this is saying that that kind of behavior will be rewarded by city council passing ordinances to placate their desires.”

Arp's comments were referring to the incidents involving some individuals who in late May attended protests downtown that were part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, said he supported the ordinance to increase transparency. However, he also said he doesn't consider Tuesday's approval as the end of the council's involvement regarding police department policy.

“To any extent to which the policies that are ultimately developed by this need additional scrutiny by council, I certainly hope that my colleagues will join me in that when the time comes,” he said.

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