by Frank Lewis
For half a decade city leaders have been rebuffed when they've brought up putting dashboard cameras in Cleveland’s police cruisers. Too expensive, they’ve been told. And don’t forget that liability risks could trump the evidentiary benefits. Yes, it’s frightening to even consider how dangerous it could be to hold officers accountable.
In a hallway near City Council chambers on Wednesday, Police Chief Mike McGrath explained how dash cams have been in the master plan for nearly a decade. His department just has other things that are ahead of the cams in line. All 215 “front-line” cruisers in the city’s fleet just became equipped with mobile computer systems, he says, as well as global positioning systems. The second phase of the upgrade is in the works now and should be done by the end of the year: an effort to let every officer electronically report their narratives from the road — another time-saving measure. Then the dash cams will go in, says McGrath.
“We can’t just put all this other stuff aside and put the dash cams in first,” he says. “They have to wait in line.”
There are 30 cameras already installed in the fleet, part of a grant-funded pilot program started three years ago, said Noberto Colon, the city’s assistant safety director. In all, he added, the three-phased upgrade will cost about $2 million; about half of that will come from the general fund, so that’s why the implementation isn’t racing to the finish line.
Stay tuned for the really cool part, though, says Colon — like possible real-time monitoring all over town, allowing police brass to oversee and communicate through every digital device at an officer’s disposal, as well as faster, more efficient dispatching.
“We’re just a few years away from that,” says Colon. “The federal government is calling it Next Generation 911, and it’ll combine everything — streaming video, texting, cell phones and picture-taking.” Law-enforcement officers can get more information faster this way, he says, and those reporting crimes can instantly wire footage from their cells or cameras to a dispatcher and on to any officer’s cruiser. Just try destroying Gotham now, Riddler. — Dan Harkins