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Saturday, March 28, 2009

NO PICTURES!

Posted By on Sat, Mar 28, 2009 at 4:00 PM

It’s anyone’s guess why cop cruisers in Cleveland, the largest city fleet in the state, still don’t have dash cams to protect officers — and their suspects — from false accusations.

Councilman Zack Reed says he’s been trying to get them installed from the time he was chairman of Council’s Public Safety Committee six years ago. Though he’s no longer in that post due to DUI troubles, the matter still seems to frustrate the current chairman, Councilman Kevin Conwell. Public Safety Director Martin Flask danced around the subject at Council’s last Public Safety meeting, saying that priority might be leaning toward the installation of more security cams. But with dash cams costing about $200 per cruiser, Reed doesn’t get it.

“Marty Flask and Chief [Mike] McGrath don’t want those cams and the question is, ‘Why?’” wonders Reed. “Steve Loomis [head of the police union] doesn’t have a problem with it. Officers don’t seem to have a problem, but when it comes down to somebody saying we’re going to use these dollars to put cams in the cars, for some reason, it doesn’t get done.”

It could be a useful tool — or a coffer-clearing one. Depends.

A few years back, a State Highway Patrol trooper shot a motorist who, he said, fired first. The dash cam proved that to be true.

In another incident, a little closer to home: Reed recalls a rash of shootings involving cops during Mayor Jane Campbell’s administration, five or six in a row. In one of the shootings, at East 151st and Kinsman in Reed’s ward, an old woman told police that she looked out her window and saw an officer tussle with a suspect, then shoot him. It turned out, after several witnesses were interviewed, that the officer was justified in shooting the man.

“My whole thing was then — and still is — that if we had a camera in that cop car, we wouldn’t have that kind of problem,” he says. “And it’s been at least six years since then.”

During budget talks last month, Flask told Council members about a pilot program that started two years ago in which some were mounted on cruisers in the 6th District. Reed asked for the results of the pilot and was told to keep waiting. He still is.

Of course, what goes unmentioned is how taped footage of officers doing the wrong thing wouldn’t exactly be helpful either.

The union did fight against the installation of vehicle locators, Reed said, but those have been installed (for about the same cost as the cams) on about half of the city’s fleet. The rest will be installed soon. But still no cams. And still no answers why. — Dan Harkins

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