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Columbus will spend $19 million to upgrade and expand police cameras and technology

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Columbus will spend nearly $19 million to upgrade police body and cruiser cameras with systems that provide clearer footage, more storage, and more coordination.

Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther says police body-worn and cruiser cameras have taken on tremendous significance since the first city introduced them in 2016. He says the new system from Arizona-based Axon Network provides more cameras, stores more footage, and hopefully provides more clarity about what police do in conflict situations.

"Experience has taught us just how powerful and important footage from these cameras can be when discerning precisely what transpired when particular actions are called into question. And sharing that footage as quickly as possible with the community."

The three year contract with Axon will provide over 21-hundred body cameras, enough for every officer in the division; 450 in-car cameras complete with license plate readers, 16 interview room cameras and 72 flex cameras that are easier to wear with tactical gear. Public Safety Director Robert Clark says the new camera has significant improvements:

"It reduces motions and blur. It utilizes four microphones which balance themselves to capture clear audio. It synchronizes body-worn cameras and in-car camera video feeds, and this allows for automated activation and overlapping views and automatic video tagging. It also captures audio and video content up to two minutes prior to activation, which will enable a two minute look back should we need to have that, both audio and video."

The automatic look back feature played a role in the investigation of the death of Andre Hill in December 2020. In that fatal shooting, Officer Adam Coy failed to activate his body camera until after he shot Hill, and the look back provided video only for 60 seconds.

Body cameras will store records for review up to 18 hours after an incident, 24-hours for in-car cameras. And they will automatically turn on whenever officers pull their weapons, turn on lights and sirens, or speed up significantly, among other scenarios. Other features being tested now include cameras that send a signal that begins coordinated recording of all police cameras within the immediate area of an incident.

Assistant Police Chief Greg Bodker says the contract includes unlimited cloud storage of camera footage - a first.

"We will be able to store not only video stored by the Axon cameras, but also legacy video from our prior vendor, and non-Axon sources like neighborhood safety cameras and video sent from the public, from cellphones or private cameras. This helps build a strong foundation on which to build a future real time crime center that ingests and quickly utilizes video evidence."

Columbus NAACP president Nana Watson served on the panel that selected Axon's package. She says video technology is a crucial part of police reform.

".... a critical tool to hold law enforcement more accountable, and ensure more transparency. We believe the greater the transparency, the greater the public trust. Which improves safety for both the public and the police."

Training and deployment of the cameras and systems begins in June, and will be complete by April 2023.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.