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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

County Prosecutor Puts Up Dash Cam Money, City Hall Approves $100 Million Bond Issue

But no provisions for necessary police spending after DOJ negotiations.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 12:00 PM

During a largely self-congratulatory City Club talk last Friday, County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty announced that he’d offered $500,000 to the Cleveland Division of Police in an effort to outfit every police cruiser with dash cams. That money, which McGinty said would cover half the cams' total cost, would come from forfeitures to the prosecutor’s department.

The county’s been pushing hard for dash cams, in part because they would’ve presented such slam dunk evidence in the 2012 high-speed chase. McGinty’s communications director, Joe Frolik, told Scene that they’re slightly more preferable to body cams (from the county’s perspective, anyway) because they can be automated to start recording when a vehicle reaches a certain speed or when a cruiser responds to a call. With body cams, officers might accidentally — or, you know, “accidentally” — forget to turn them off before a confrontation.

In (what would seem to be) related news, City Council's finance committee met Monday afternoon to discuss a $100-million expenditure proposal by Mayor Frank Jackson. Twenty million of those dollars would be set aside to upgrade the “city fleet,” including new vehicles for snow removal, fire, safety and waste collection. Surely $500,000 could be located within that $20 million for the other half of the dash cam expenses, right?

It's unclear. Council members (along with city spokespeople) admitted that the whole financing situation was just insanely confusing. Council repeatedly sought clarification from Finance Director Sharon Dumas and Chief of Staff Ken Silliman about the city's ability to pay off debt, the schedule of allocated funds for ward rec centers, and — most importantly — how much of this $100 million will be used to upgrade the police force in accordance with the DOJ.

Answer: Unclear. Dumas indicated that moneys could be "redirected" as necessary, if the consent decree becomes a court judgement and affects capital spending.  

The discussion lasted more than four hours, and concluded during the evening's City Council meeting of the whole, where members approved the $100 million package. As it stands, none of the money will be diverted to the cameras in question, nor to inevitable future upgrades in equipment or training to accommodate the city's promised consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice.  No surprises there. The city still isn't assigning any urgency to the DOJ business.

Council did authorize $1.6 million in expenditures for body cams back in October (more than a month before the Tamir Rice shooting) but the dash cam funding appears to be a separate issue. One city spokesman said the issue is not controversial — “Everyone’s on board,” he said — only that the particular funding for dash cams wasn’t part of Monday’s legislative agenda.

Cleveland activist groups have requested that police officers be equipped with body cams by Jan. 25. Last we checked with the city, they said they’re hoping to have them online by the end of the month.

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