Cleveland has doubts on body cameras for part-time work


CLEVELAND (AP) — City officials are wrestling with an order to devise a plan for a pilot project that would require police officers to wear body cameras while moonlighting, citing the potential overtime cost to the city.

The city must submit plans for the pilot to U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver by April 28 as part of Cleveland’s agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to reform the police department.

Use of body cameras during off-duty, part-time work is being pushed by Matthew Barge, the independent monitor paid by the city to oversee implementation of the agreement reached in May 2015 after a federal investigation concluded Cleveland police officers had shown a pattern of using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights.

The city’s plans to issue body cameras to its 1,500 officers predated the consent decree.

Oliver could approve plans for the pilot, ask for changes or reject the idea altogether.

Greg White, Cleveland’s lead official for the consent decree, said creating a pilot program “is more complicated than what it seems on the surface.” He said there are concerns about whether officers taking time to return their cameras to their docking stations and upload video could cut into their regular duty time or require the city to pay overtime.

“We’re determining whether a pilot program would even work,” White said. “If the city has to pay overtime, there could be a significant price tag associated with it.”

It’s unclear how much those overtime costs might be. Cleveland permits officers to wear body cameras while working off-duty jobs, but few do, White said.

Barge said in an interview that it makes sense for officers working off duty to have body cameras available to record incidents that could involve crimes or police use of force.

“It’s not something we think would be overly onerous or costly,” Barge said.

He acknowledged there could be costs associated with additional storage of recordings. It’s not clear how often officers who are moonlighting would need to switch on their cameras, he said. Barge envisions that the rules for camera use during regular duty shifts could apply to part-time work.

The consent decree doesn’t require Cleveland police to use body cameras but includes requirements on training, retention of recordings and audits of those recordings by supervisors if they are used.

An Associated Press survey of more than a dozen large city police departments found two — Atlanta and Minneapolis — requiring officers to wear body cameras while working off duty. A Minneapolis police spokeswoman says her department requires that officers return cameras to the stations where they work after an off-duty job.

Denver police are planning to require officers to wear cameras while working off duty. Cincinnati has received a $600,000 grant to eventually pay costs associated with officers wearing cameras during outside jobs. Chicago prohibits officers from using any city equipment, including body cameras, during off-duty work.

Steve Loomis, head of Cleveland’s largest police union and a frequent critic of the reform measures mandated by the consent decree, said he would be fine with a department-wide policy if the city pays officers overtime for the cost of picking up and returning cameras to the officers’ duty stations.

Keeping cameras fully charged could be an issue because officers often work off-duty jobs immediately before or after their city shifts, Loomis said. About 200 officers a day work off-duty jobs, he said.

“I wouldn’t care if they could find a viable way to do it,” he said.