Hilliard Division of Police poised to start using body-worn cameras next year

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

Hilliard has sketched out a timeline for implementing body-worn cameras for police officers, and city leaders plan to seek a grant this summer that would fund the devices.

Next year, Hilliard Division of Police officers could join the growing ranks of law-enforcement agencies that utilize body-worn cameras.

There is a “community expectation” for police officers to have body cameras, and the use of the cameras enhances prosecution in the courts and personnel management within a department, police Chief Robert Fisher told Hilliard City Council on May 10.

This is one of the button-activated WatchGuard body cameras that all Whitehall Division of Police officers in uniform or on patrol have worn since July 2018. The Hilliard Division of Police could be outfitted with body cameras next year.

The cameras also can prevent litigation by exonerating officers of wrongful accusations, he said.

About $225,000 will be needed to launch a body-camera program, including $150,000 for equipment, with the remainder for network and ancillary costs, Fisher said.

The city will include body cameras as part of the capital-improvements budget for 2022, but at the same time, it will seek grants to fund the cost of the cameras, City Manager Michelle Crandall said.

The specifics of the grant program are yet to be outlined but could come as soon as June, Fisher said.

“(Gov. Mike DeWine) proposed it as part of the budget that is before the (Ohio) General Assembly now," he said May 11. "We do not know much how much will be offered in the grant, but it would be administered through a state agency."

Although a policy for body cameras will be discussed with the Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, the use of body cameras will not be part of any collective-bargaining agreement with the union that represents central Ohio law-enforcement officers, Fisher said.

“That’s a management right,” Crandall said about the city’s decision to have officers utilize body cameras.

“But we want their feedback,” Fisher said, and there will be discussion between Hilliard police and the FOP as Hilliard police begin using body cameras and developing a policy for their use.

But the move apparently is being made sooner than the Fraternal Order of Police expected.

Jeff Simpson, executive vice president of the FOP Capital City Lodge No. 9, said May 13 that he was concerned to learn that the body-worn-camera policy had been advanced at Hilliard City Council and that it would not be included in a memorandum of understanding.

The FOP has a formal MOU concerning policy for body-worn cameras with some agencies, such as the Columbus Division of Police and Westerville Division of Police, Simpson said.

MOUs do not exist with all agencies – such as the Whitehall Division of Police – but the policy is discussed to reach an agreement, he  said.

Simpson, who has been the liaison to Hilliard police since 2007, said he was concerned at the "tone" of what was said at the council meeting.

"Being portrayed as an obstructionist by management and politicians is unacceptable," Simpson said. "You will see an increased voice by the FOP to push back against that kind of rhetoric being spewed by politicians. It is harmful to citizen safety and officer safety."

In a May 13 email to Hilliard City Council members and Crandall, Simpson said he was concerned about Fisher's statement that the use of body cameras would not be part of a CBA and that Crandall considered the policy a "management right."

"The statements made, in my opinion, draws a perceived immediate line in the sand as to how the city intends to communicate and work with the FOP," he said. "I personally do not believe it is healthy. It causes anxiety among the public and my members, your officers.

Simpson also wrote he is "surprised that Chief Fisher was making a move on BWC policy when he is on his way out the door."

Fisher is retiring May 21 and Deputy Chief Eric Grile is being promoted.

"It makes better sense to have the new chief see this issue through," Simpson wrote.

According to his email, Simpson said he received a copy of Hilliard's body-camera policy May 5.

"In this memo, (Fisher) declared the policy and asked for FOP feedback," he said. "I was unaware that the issue was moving forward."

Council member Les Carrier said further discussion is warranted.

"Now that we are aware, there will be further discussion so all the perspectives are heard," he said. "Our officers serve us well (and) need to be heard.

"Whatever that process is, I want our officers to be comfortable with the (body-camera) policy."

David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard, said May 14 that Crandall had received the email but not yet replied to it.

Andrea Litchfield, a spokeswoman for the Hilliard Division of Police, said May 14 she and Fisher were not aware that Simpson had sent the email to council members and Crandall.

Fisher said May 17 that the FOP was made aware of the effort via an April 30 memo from Fisher to Crandall in which he shared a draft of the policy that was presented to the Hilliard liaison officer to the FOP.

"Work has been ongoing for a body-worn-camera program for some time, and this has been openly discussed within the organization, as well as with City Council," he said. "Implementation of any program such as this takes time and is not rolled out hastily. The FOP has been aware of the efforts.

"Policy formulation always follows a process. The police administration always seeks the input of HPD team members before policies are issued – this has been a longstanding practice for the administration. On the body-worn-camera policy, I specifically solicited input from our grievance representative who works closely with the lodge on these matters.

"Further dialogue will continue on this program as an implementation plan is established in the next six months. This is an organizational goal and is the intent of the entire administration."

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo