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Cleveland City Council may require release of some police body cam footage within 7 days

Cleveland police have used body-worn cameras since 2015.

Cleveland police may soon have to release video footage of police officers using deadly force within seven days of the incident.

On Wednesday, city council’s safety committee moved ahead with an ordinance first introduced by Councilman Mike Polensek last year. If passed by full council, the city would have to release three dash cam or body cam videos, if that many are available, that cover up to 60 seconds prior to the use of force. The rest of the footage would have to be released within 30 days.

“I’ve always believed that the data collected are public record," said Polensek, who is chairman of the safety committee. "And I’ve always believed that it was important to release that information within a reasonable amount of time.”

The proposed ordinance is essentially the same as one adopted by Akron City Council last year. Voters there also overwhelmingly passed a charter amendment requiring that footage be released. There are no proposals for an amendment to Cleveland’s charter.

Polensek said former Mayor Frank Jackson blocked the ordinance last year and the current mayor, Justin Bibb, approved it last month.

“Transparency is very important,” said Public Safety Director Karrie Howard, who held the same job under Jackson. “The confidence of the public that we, the Department of Public Safety and the Cleveland Division of Police, are acting in good faith is very important.”

According to the Cleveland Division of Police, the city is also in the process of acquiring dash cameras for its patrol cars. All patrol officers are required to wear body cameras. But according to Chief Wayne Drummond, an officer failing to turn on the camera is the department’s most common policy violation.

“If they’re turned off on purpose, then, if we can prove that, and that’s important, if we can prove that, obviously there’s disciplinary actions that’s forthcoming for that individual that’s involved in purposefully turning off their body camera,” Drummond said.

The department has had body cameras since 2015, and officers are required to turn them on during any call for service they go on.

In two recent cases, Cleveland police have released body cam footage soon after a police shooting. But in both those cases, the officers were from outside agencies.

When two officers from the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority killed a man in his housing unit after a brief struggle, the Cleveland Division of Police was asked to investigate and released the footage a week after the shooting.

Also in June, a Maple Heights police officer shot and killed a man as he was trying to flee from an officer. Cleveland police are also handling that investigation and released the body cam footage 10 days afterward.

The ordinance allows exceptions for court orders or if there is some other legal prohibition preventing release. It also only covers recording devices issued to Cleveland police officers, not footage from city-owned surveillance cameras.

Council could approve the ordinance as soon as Aug. 10.

Matthew Richmond is a general assignment reporter at Ideastream Public Media who focuses on criminal justice.