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New Tasers, Body Cameras Help Police Confront Violent Crime

Left: Patrolman Ryan Curry wears a body camera (left, below nametag) and a Taser stun gun (right). Every officer will carry the two items by early 2023.; Right: ARP funds enabled the City to contract for 303 body cameras and 155 upgraded Taser stun guns.

ARP, Police - September 15, 2022

The purchase of 155 next-generation Taser stun guns and body-worn cameras for every police officer will dramatically elevate the capabilities of the Youngstown Police Department to enforce the law and build trust with citizens, police officials say.

Allocations of more than $1.2 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan funds enabled the police to secure the new equipment, as well as the education, technology and storage space to support it. Officer training is under way, with plans to have everyone with a badge wearing a body camera by 2023.

“This will help us respond to the uptick in violent crime,” said Detective Sgt. Jose Morales. “The cameras are definitely going to help us with prosecutions because they’re capturing these arrests and incidents like we haven’t been able to before. The cameras will definitely help prosecute those individuals that we’re coming across.

“To put it in perspective, since the chief started the Neighborhood Response Unit in May of 2021, they’ve taken 259 firearms off the street. Pretty much all of those arrests and encounters were caught on film.”

The new Taser 7 stun guns will replace the older models police use today, which are past their five-year recommended life and no longer covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

The new guns include better optics that help officers aim more accurately, points out Michael Bodnar, a patrol officer known as the department’s “Taser expert.” The guns fire darts that penetrate more effectively through clothes, and their cartridges are easier to reload, he said.

The Taser 7 guns also sync with the new body cameras, supplied by the same manufacturer, Axon, based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Whenever an officer turns on a Taser, the officer’s camera will automatically begin recording. Any other body camera within 30 to 50 feet of the gun will also start recording.

Police began deploying the body cameras last year, first to eight officers from the Neighborhood Response and Community Police units. Today, 16 officers, including Morales, are using them.

Officers trained on the cameras in August are expected to start using them in October, and then additional groups are scheduled for training and deployment in the following months. Morales hopes to have more than 100 of the cameras in use by the end of the year.

An additional 100 body cameras are due in next year, then 100 more in 2025 as part of the city’s contract with Axon. While some of those could replace cameras damaged in the line of duty, there will be plenty for each of the force’s 135 officers, including detectives and investigators.

Morales expects the cameras to “preserve public trust” as they make the work of police more transparent.

“No longer will there be ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ stories. There will always be a third perspective now — an unbiased perspective that can see how the whole encounter unfolded,” he said. “It’s also helped us in court with successful prosecutions, training and especially with citizens.”

The department also received 100 Signal Sidearm sensors that will help officers capture critical events. The smart sensor attaches to the holster and activates any camera within proximity when a firearm is drawn, similar to the new stun gun.

In addition to the body cameras, stun guns, holsters, sensors, training and storage space, the ARP funds brought some important supporting technology for the new equipment:

  • Unlimited online storage of all video captured by the body cameras, as well as the dates and times Tasers were used.
  • Video-editing software that enables police to protect officers and others before releasing a video publicly (for example, if a Social Security number or home address is picked up by a body camera, it can be blurred out).
  • Automatic tagging of locations in body camera videos so tags do not have to be added manually.
  • GPS capabilities that enable police to pinpoint the location of each body camera.
  • Free transcriptions of words spoken in videos, when that service is needed. Transcription is not used often, but it can be necessary for complaints, administrative investigations and criminal prosecutions, Morales said.