- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

CLEVELAND (AP) - A small number of Cleveland patrol officers will take to the streets Wednesday equipped with new city-owned body cameras, technology that officials hope will provide more accountability within the troubled department and close the gap of mistrust of police within the community.

The department has come under scrutiny in the last few years because of high-profile police shootings, including that of a 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun, and a U.S. Justice Department report that concluded Cleveland police have engaged in a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations.

Cleveland joins a growing roster of cities that equip officers with body cameras. Los Angeles announced a plan in December to provide them to 7,000 officers.

A Cleveland police spokesman said plans to use body cameras have been discussed since at least 2012 and that there were pilot projects in 2013 and 2014. The cameras and equipment needed to upload and store data will cost about $2.4 million. Officials hope that investment will provide key evidence for criminal cases, reduce confrontations between police and citizens and lessen complaints about improper police behavior.

The feedback from officers who tested the cameras was overwhelmingly positive, said spokesman Sgt. Ali Pillow.

“At the end of the 30-day trial period, they didn’t want to give them back,” Pillow said. “They saw the need for them and how they can help them.”

Cleveland will issue cameras to the entire 1,450-member department, including Chief Calvin Williams, by June. New officers will have them when they graduate from the police academy, which Pillow said will eventually make them part of Cleveland’s police culture.

Department regulations require officers to switch their cameras on during several scenarios: traffic stops; encounters with victims, witnesses and suspects; searches of people, vehicles and buildings; domestic violence calls; and interactions with people with known mental illnesses. Officers must ask someone if they can use their cameras if they need consent to enter a home or business.

The head of the city’s largest police union said Wednesday that political pressure has caused the department to rush to get the cameras on the street.

“They need to be deliberate,” said Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association. “No one wants to see these things fail. But I don’t want my guys getting into trouble because it’s being rushed into place.”

Loomis said the cameras could have value during traffic stops and routine policing, but he thinks critics want police to have them for another reason.

“They want them to record police-involved shootings and police-involved physical activity - the running and gunning part of the job,” Loomis said. “In those cases, the video is going to be poor quality. It’s going to lead to more confusion and mistrust.”

The fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a white rookie police officer on Nov. 21 was recorded by a surveillance camera and has contributed to a nationwide outcry among activists protesting excessive police force against black people. Body cameras have been cited as one way to increase accountability and rebuild trust with police.

Nationally, officers in 1 of 6 six departments patrol with small cameras on their chests, lapels or sunglasses.

President Barack Obama recommended spending $74 million to equip 50,000 officers with cameras after an unarmed black teen was fatally shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

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