CLEVELAND, Ohio — Many Cleveland police officers will not be wearing body cameras if protests turn violent during the Republican National Convention, officials said.
Police officials have told officers that a host of logistical issues, including an inability to attach the cameras to police riot gear, means officers will not be able to wear the devices.
The department says officers will use other methods to record police interactions with protesters and the public during the convention. But the head of a police union and the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio expressed concern that the officers who will be thrust in the most volatile situations will not be wearing a device that is a deterrent for both violence against police and officer misconduct.
“To have those body cameras and not allow us to wear them is absolutely irresponsible,” Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Steve Loomis said Friday.
Christine Link, executive director at the ACLU of Ohio, called the news a “serious concern.”
“There’s no way that [police] have enough people doing video to cover what body cameras would cover,” Link said.
The four-day convention, from July 18-21, is expected to draw 65,000 delegates, dignitaries, and reporters from around the world, as well as thousands of protesters.
Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams said in a September to officers the convention would bring “challenges of historic proportions” and stretch the department “to its current limits.”
The city plans to bring in thousands of officers from police departments to help provide security. Whether those officers wear body cameras will be up to their department, Cleveland police spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia said.
Cleveland’s police force will wear “softer” uniforms at the beginning of the RNC, rather than adopting a military-style approach that might inflame tensions. Tampa police took a similar approach during the 2012 RNC.
The officers in softer uniforms will wear their body cameras, which cost the city $2.4 million in 2015, and be required to follow the department’s recording policy, Ciaccia said in an emailed statement to cleveland.com.
Should protesters clash with police, officers will dress in riot gear and administer crowd control tactics.
Those officers, who will face the most volatile and potentially explosive situations during the convention, will not wear cameras, Ciaccia said.
Ciaccia stressed that police officers will use other methods of recording. During past protests, detectives on the ground have used hand-held cameras, and police have filmed confrontations from helicopters.
“We are confident with the operational plan we have in place that we will capture any interaction/encounter with a citizen during the RNC,” Ciaccia said.
Loomis, who initially spoke out against body cameras, blasted the decision.
“Just when we get used to them and we want them to be around, [the department] tells us, when we probably need them the most, that we’re not going to be wearing them,” Loomis said.
Loomis pointed to recent clashes between protesters and police outside rallies held by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in New Mexico and Chicago. He said body cameras would deter “paid, professional protesters” from throwing rocks or bricks at police officers to spur a confrontation.
He also said footage would help clear officers from false allegations of misconduct by protesters.
“We want those cameras on so we’re not falsely accused of acting anything but professional,” Loomis said.
Link noted that the city entered into court-enforced police reform last year, after a 20-month Department of Justice investigation found the police department too often used excessive force.
By not having body cameras recording potential clashes between officers and protesters, the city risks further complicating an already stressed public perception of the department, Link said.
The hand-held cameras leave open the chance for officers to stop recording, turn away or miss key parts of an altercation, whether purposely or not, Link said.
The body cameras capture the entire interaction, and will help not only ward against police misconduct, but also help police supervisors analyze tactics and investigate complaints, Link said.
“If hand-held video cameras and helicopters could cover everything, why did we invest millions of dollars in body cameras in the first place?” Link asked.