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Left in the Dark: Most non-municipal Northeast Ohio police departments do not provide body cameras

Body-worn camera
Posted at 6:14 PM, Apr 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 10:16:28-04

CLEVELAND — Our exclusive News 5 investigation found only 32% of Northeast Ohio's non-municipal police departments provide or require body-worn cameras, despite calls from victims' families, experts, and top state officials for every Ohio officer to be equipped with the devices.

Non-municipal departments

News 5 surveyed 31 non-municipal police departments in Northeast Ohio. Twenty-one of the departments said they do not use body-worn cameras.

The departments that do not currently have the devices include the Cuyahoga Community College Department of Campus Police and Security Services, Cleveland Clinic Police Department, and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department, where Officer James Griffiths shot and killed Arthur Keith in the backside of his armpit, 19, last November.

RELATED: Medical examiner says Arthur Keith was fatally shot in the backside of armpit by CMHA officer

Arthur Keith, 19, was shot and killed by a CMHA police officer last November. The department's officers do not currently wear body-worn cameras.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Authority Transit Police Department, which recently disciplined one of its officers after a surveillance camera captured him throwing a man onto the tracks, also does not utilize body-worn cameras.

RELATED: RTA police officer disciplined for shoving man at Brookpark Rapid Station

The Cleveland Metroparks Police Department does not currently have body-worn cameras, but is "in the process of training and implementation of our new body cameras for our entire police force, which is expected to be complete by early summer," according to spokesperson Jacqueline Gerling.

Ten non-municipal police departments said their officers currently wear body-worn cameras, including Cleveland State University and University Hospitals.

Accountability & transparency

Cleveland State University Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Ronnie Dunn, who is also a member of the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board, which sets policies for the state's law enforcement agencies, said our findings were "concerning."

"I found that somewhat surprising and dismaying as well," Dunn said. "In that, as the staple of a 21st-Century police agency, you would expect any sizable police agency, I would argue, [to]...have and utilize body-worn cameras."

"It's a best practice," he said.

CSU Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Ronnie Dunn said it's a "best practice" for police officers to wear body-worn cameras.

Dunn said the devices benefit both the public and police.

"It’s important to provide transparency in the interactions among our law enforcement officers with the public," he said. "The use of the cameras are mutually beneficial for both law enforcement and for the public."

Municipal police departments

By comparison, News 5 found 69% of the 75 largest municipal police departments serving cities and towns in Northeast Ohio use body-worn cameras.

The police departments with body-worn cameras include Northeast Ohio's largest cities. We found officers in Akron, Cleveland, Canton, and Parma all wear the devices.

We also found a few larger police departments in Northeast Ohio have not purchased the technology, including Elyria, Lorain and Westlake.

Officers in Euclid and Willoughby are allowed to purchase and wear their own personal body-worn camera devices.

The governor's proposal

If Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has his way, it will soon be easier for every law enforcement agency in the state to purchase body-worn cameras.

In the budget proposal he unveiled in February, DeWine included a $10 million grant to help police departments pay for the devices.

“Our goal should be to ensure that every police officer in the state of Ohio has a body camera," DeWine said during a news conference last June, where he announced sweeping police reforms.

DeWine is currently in negotiations with legislators regarding the grant proposal.

CMHA's response

As part of a federal agency, it's unlikely CMHA would qualify for state aid to buy body-worn cameras, even if funding becomes available.

When we initially asked, CMHA spokesperson Cortney Crockett said the agency did not have plans to purchase body-worn cameras for its police force, which includes 50 police officers and 16 protection officers.

Then, last week, CMHA Chief of Staff Jeff Wade reached out to News 5 to say CMHA is in the process of purchasing the devices.

Wade declined our request for an on-camera interview.

CMHA Chief of Staff Jeff Wade said the housing authority is in the process of purchasing body-worn cameras for its police department.

Crockett emailed News 5 the following statement:

"As we continue to strive for greater transparency and accountability, the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) recognizes the advantages of body-worn camera systems by law enforcement officers together with their effect of promoting safety and transparency. To that end, CMHA is engaged in the process of analyzing equipment and corresponding software while obtaining officer and resident feedback and developing a policy to facilitate the implementation of these important tools. We are hopeful to move this process along in the immediate future."

'No transparency'

For Arthur Keith's family, the department's decision to buy body-worn cameras is too little, too late.

"There's no transparency here," said Matricia Givner, Keith's aunt. "Anyone that uses lethal force and you carry a weapon, I don’t care where you are, you need to have transparency, you need to have those body cameras."

Without body-worn camera video, what Officer Griffiths saw before he pulled the trigger remains a mystery. CMHA has not released surveillance camera video from the scene or revealed if it shows Keith's shooting.

Officer Griffiths said he shot Keith at 5 p.m. at the King Kennedy housing complex after Keith pointed a gun at him, according to the police report.

The coroner's report said Keith was shot in the back of his left armpit.

Arthur Keith was shot and killed by a CMHA police officer Nov. 13, 2020 Photo credit: The Cochran Firm

The lack of information about Keith's death has served to deepen his family's grief over the loss of his life.

Arthur was a wonderful kid," said Rita Keith, Arthur's mother.

Keith said Arthur, who has an older sister and younger brother, was the type of person who would "give you the shirt off his back."

“I loved my son," she said. "Everybody else loved him too."

“He had a beautiful smile," Givner said. She described Arthur as a mentor to children who lived in the King Kennedy complex.

“A lot of people don’t know that," she said. “He had a really nice demeanor."

Keith said she and Arthur's siblings are struggling to accept his death and "ache really bad" over his loss.

"Every night when I come home, I say, ‘Good night' to my son. Tell him I love him and miss him and wish he was here," said Keith.

Arthur Keith's mother, Rita, and his aunt, Matricia Givner, said they've been for close to six months for answers about his death.

Cleveland Division of Police spokesperson Jennifer Ciaccia said Keith's death is still under investigation.

Officer Griffiths is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to Wade.

Transparency Tracker

Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department: 3 - Partially complied with information requests

TRANSPARENCY SHADOW 3.png

The CMHA Police Department refused an on-camera interview and won’t even confirm if there is surveillance camera video of the incident involving Ar. However, they did call to confirm they are getting body-worn cameras and sent a statement.

Learn more about News 5's "Transparency Tracker" initiative here.

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