Cincinnati FOP demonstrates the vagaries of deploying body cameras

The current conflict illustrates how important it is for police administrators and union representatives to participate in the process of deploying body-worn cameras

In Cincinnati, an attorney for the local FOP sent a “cease and desist” letter to the city stating that until additional pay for wearing body-worn cameras has been decided, officers shouldn’t wear those devices. The letter, authored by Stephen Lazarus, said that requiring officers to wear cameras would “have a significant impact on the employees' wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment.”

Firing back in a memo, City Manager Harry Black wrote that “the FOP had ample opportunity to bargain over its proposal at various bargaining sessions and during mediation.” 

This may or may not be the case — we don’t presently know whether all the necessary stakeholders were at the table during the deliberations on deployment of body-worn cameras — but the current conflict is an illustration of just how important it is for police administrators and union representatives to participate fully in the process of deploying body-worn cameras. 

History repeating
Recall that when in-car video systems were first introduced, there was widespread skepticism among many patrol officers who didn’t want to have “Big Brother” riding around in their squad car. Nowadays, cops who don’t have in-car systems are practically begging to get them, because they know the devices help make arrests which result in convictions, and prevent frivolous complaints by citizens.

Sound BWC policy collaboratively created by all stakeholders — administrators, police unions, civil rights groups, local lawmakers, and others — can ensure that the rollout of a body-worn camera initiative goes off without such a hitch as we see in Cincinnati. 

Another takeaway from reading the coverage of the disagreement is the demand for increased compensation for officers wearing the cameras. This is not new. While the current battle over BWCs might really just be a proxy war in a greater dispute over wages in general, the matter of increased pay for wearing BWCs had been previously addressed in other cities.

In an interview with WCPO News in Cincinnati, union president Daniel Hils said “We find more and more cities are collectively bargaining with their police unions about the use of body cameras.”

Hils is 100 percent correct. Officers in Denver sought increased wages for having the additional responsibility of wearing BWCs, and Boston PD offered an incentive of $500 to officers who would participate in a pilot program. 

Hils said the city did not collectively bargain with the union regarding the body worn cameras, and indicated that the union may go to court to try to force the city into collective bargaining. Time will tell on that one. 

Welcome to the future
The fact is, BWCs are indisputably the future of law enforcement — there will soon come a day when nearly every cop in America is wearing one — and for the most part, LEOs are eager to have them added to their uniforms. 

They know that research has shown that wearing BWCs helps significantly reduce citizen complaints against officers, and simultaneously lowers use of force incidents by officers (subjects are more likely to comply with commands when they know the camera is watching). 

As we watch the controversy in Cincinnati unfold, let’s keep in mind that while BWCs — like every other piece of police equipment — have certain limitations, the upside of this technology far outweighs any perceived or potential downside. 

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