Good use of funds

Body cameras have become very important equipment for law enforcement personnel. If you have to ask why, you have not been following the news.

Video and audio records of interactions between the public and law enforcement officers serve multiple good purposes. First, they protect good cops from false accusations of brutality.

Just as important, they protect the public against the tiny minority of badge carriers who do not follow the rules.

Finally, body cam footage can be critical evidence when criminals are prosecuted.

But most small police and sheriff’s departments simply can’t afford body cams. Steubenville’s experience makes the point.

On Tuesday, Steubenville officials began laying the groundwork to spend as much as $220,000 to purchase body cameras for city police officers.

It is not that city officials lacked understanding of the value of body cams. “We wanted them to have body cameras — and there was no room in our budget,” City Councilman Willie Paul commented.

Indeed, had it not been for COVID-19, Steubenville’s budget might not have been adequate to purchase the equipment. But the city received federal funding through the CARES Act, and money for the cameras is coming out of it. As City Manager Jim Mavromatis explained, body cam footage may be useful in contact tracing to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Steubenville City Council still must approve the purchase — and we encourage members to do so. They also should begin building money into budgets to maintain body cam records and replace equipment, as needed.

Many local government entities in our area have received CARES Act money. They may need to use it to cover spending related more directly to the epidemic. But if they have CARES money not needed for other purposes, they may want to explore the Steubenville approach. This may be a golden opportunity to equip police officers and sheriff’s deputies with body cams.


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