Groveport police officers have joined thousands of other law-enforcement officers nationwide in wearing body cameras, which were issued last month after years of discussion and planning.

"Nationally, the push from the public was, 'Hey, you guys have to have these because we want to show how much wrong you do to us,' " police Chief Ralph Portier said. "It's not showing that. It's showing what we are doing right 99% of the time."

City Council approved $74,314 in this year's budget to purchase, maintain and upgrade, when available, 17 body cameras. The cost of the contract with Axon, formerly Taser International, is spread over five years.

Groveport has 24 police officers, but detectives and administrative staff will not be issued cameras unless one of them works the street, Portier said.

About half of the nation's more than 15,000 general-purpose law-enforcement agencies had acquired body cameras, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Department of Justice.

"We've been evaluating the cameras over the past five years," Sgt. Casey Adams said. "We see it as a tool for not only evidence but also for protecting the citizens of Groveport."

The small cameras can be clipped onto a police officer's uniform or worn as a headset and turned on to record video and audio of encounters with the public. The video often is saved with time and date stamps and GPS coordinates. Some body cameras even offer real-time video streaming.

Groveport's cameras, which are worn on the uniform, automatically turn on when an officer's vehicle emergency lights are activated.

Agencies also face legal issues involving the storage and release of the video to the public and news media.

"One of the concerns we had was what if during an eight-hour shift an officer handled the rape of a child, and is that entire volume of video subject to public record?" Portier said.

"The answer should be 'no.' That's not fair to the child. There are rules that protect that."

Former Gov. John Kasich created the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board in 2015 to develop statewide standards for the use of police body-worn cameras and address privacy, operations and public-records issues.

An Ohio law that defines police body-camera and dash- camera footage as public record and limits when it can be released went into effect in April.

Although any resident could request camera footage, it could be denied if the video is a confidential investigatory record, a video within a private home, a video within a private business or a video of a sex-crime victim.

The law does say that although depiction of the death of a person or a deceased person's body is exempt from release, the video could be released if the death was caused by a law- enforcement officer. It also applies to cases of "grievous bodily harm."

Despite the exemptions, the law was supported by the Ohio News Media Association, a trade association that represents many of Ohio's newspapers.

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews