PEPPER PIKE — Council last week agreed to spend about $69,000 equipping the city’s six police vehicles with new cameras and updating the software and data storage system to operate them.
One of the biggest perks of having the new systems, Chief Joe Mariola said, is that dispatchers will have the ability to access the vehicles’ cameras in real time.
Chief Mariola said the department has been having some recording issues with some of the current camera systems purchased in 2009 and it’s time for an update. The new Panasonic equipment the department will buy is higher quality than the existing models with a likely life of 10 years, he added.
The total purchase will include 24 cameras. Each vehicle has a camera in the front facing forward from the car, one aimed towards the back seat, and one on either side of the vehicle facing outward to the left and right.
Another part of the purchase includes upgrading how the footage is stored and accessed. One of the biggest inconveniences currently, the chief said, is that all of the footage is stored on SD cards and when the cards fill up, the officers have to return to the station to get another card. With the new system, the data will be stored digitally. Searching for footage digitally will also be much easier than the current process.
Overall, the chief said the upgrade is needed and will be of great benefit to the department and the community. He said the footage comes in handy when an individual submits a complaint about an officer. The videos are also a critical piece of evidence when arrests are made.
“It documents and protects the officers and also does the same for the community,” he said. On the rare occasion the department receives complaints about an officer, the chief said he has reviewed the footage. Based on this, officers have been in the clear so far, he said. All footage is public record and can be obtained by citizens, leading to effective department transparency, the chief added.
“And evidentiary wide, any physical arrests we make, the first thing our prosecutor asks for are the video recordings from the body cams and vehicle cameras. Any time we do anything, we’re asked for these recordings,” he said.
Chief Mariola said he has been researching and planning for this upgrade since last year and considered multiple options before ultimately deciding that the Panasonic systems were the best fit for the department. All footage will be shot in high definition.
Other area communities with the same Panasonic systems include Beachwood, Orange and Russell Township. Chief Mariola said all these communities are satisfied with the systems.
Being on the same system as Beachwood, which shares dispatch services with Pepper Pike, was one of the benefits of going with Panasonic, said Mayor Richard Bain, who also serves as the city’s safety director.
“This is a system that is highly compatible with our current dispatch and those dispatchers are familiar with it,” the mayor said at last week’s council meeting when the legislation was approved. “I think that certainly weighs in favor of this particular hardware and companion software for it.”
Dispatchers having the ability to look in on the camera footage in real time while an officer is on scene is one of the most important aspects of the upgrade, the chief said.
“If the dispatcher is watching and an officer gets into trouble, and they can’t get to a radio or their panic button on their portable,” the chief said, the dispatcher will be able to send help.
The camera updates were budgeted for $85,000, and council’s approval last week is to cover up to $75,000 of project expenses, if contingencies and unexpected costs drive the price up from the quoted $68,627. The chief said with the approval coming last week, he is hoping for the instillation to be completed by the first of June.
Councilman Scott Newell, who is a longtime freelance television journalist, producer and cameraman, said he supports the chief’s decision to move forward with the new equipment and overall upgrade.
“I appreciate all of the time you’ve put into it for the research,” Mr. Newell said to the chief at the March 22 meeting. “And I think you’re wise to go with a company like Panasonic. They’ve been in the business for a long time, they produce good stuff and (the equipment) should last at least 10 years.”
When asked by council last week, Chief Mariola said the body cameras were purchased two years ago and remain in good working order. They should last for at least another eight years, the chief concluded.