Sheriff Eugene Conway appeared before cameras and defended his initial failure to make body cameras available to Onondaga County Sheriff Deputies a priority. Stating in multiple reports that he’d rather spend funds on “stun guns, bullet proof vests and vehicles”. There are some jurisdictions that have had body worn cameras for years. Large upstate counties with cities at their core; Monroe (Rochester), Erie (Buffalo), and Albany (Albany,NY) Counties all have body cameras.
Is this is an April 23rd epiphany by the Onondaga County Sheriff Eugene Conway? No, this topic has been on the Onondaga County Executive’s list of concerns culminating in a February 25th letter to Sheriff Conway regarding The Onondaga County Sheriff Department and their participation in Onondaga County’s Justice Reform Initiative.
County Executive J. Ryan McMahon wrote, “As you are aware, the full report covers many areas and is based on input from many members of law enforcement, including members of your own department, community leaders, elected office holders, prosecutors, and members of the general public.”
The letter is an affirmation of Onondaga County Executive McMahon’s commitment to making reforms a reality. Reiterating the report being an “in-depth and extensive project includes recommendations for changes in the criminal justice system” McMahon continues, “Changes of particular importance to me are those concerning hiring diversity, use-of-force policies, agency certification, and the use of body cameras for patrol duties.”
After the Derek Chauvin trial for the death of George Floyd; law enforcement has increasingly used these cameras to provide a video record of the encounter. They’ve become increasingly important to not only shed light on possible abuse by excessive force, but cameras also provide information that has exonerated Police who were found to be following best practices. However, the review of what happened to George Floyd would have never been officially documented without body-worn cameras.
Both Onondaga County Executive J. Ryan McMahon and Onondaga County’s District Attorney are in favor of body-cameras. In published reports D.A. William Fitzpatrick claims footage has backed up officers actions. In comments regarding the Chauvin trial Fitzpatrick said, “Absent that video, would you have had a conviction? You might not have even had charges filed.”
The letter continues, “In regard to diversity hiring and the use of body cameras on all patrol deputies, please know that this is a priority of my administration, and we are prepared to support – to the fullest extent- the aggressive implementation of these initiatives.”
“In an effort to expedite these programs, I would ask your department to prepare and forward to my office a specific plan of implementation for both these initiatives, so that we may include the necessary funding in the upcoming budget.”
It has been made clear to Sheriff Conway that Onondaga County was prepared as early as February 25, 2021 to fully fund and implement changes. In a published report Sheriff Conway says the letter was “news to him”.
“As evidence of my support of the concept of body cameras, I’d like to see that money next week,” Conway said at a televised news conference. Conway stated that it would take until April 2022 to implement a body camera plan unless funding were now made available. Even then, the Sheriff appears to remain lukewarm to the idea of body cameras as a priority.
Sheriff Eugene Conway’s statements to the media on Friday April 23rd is 62 days after the County Executive offered full support and requested a “specific plan of implementation.”
The “specific plan of implementation” has yet to be submitted to the County Executive.