Brendan Keany

Public Safety Committee Holds Discussion on Body-Cams

Sheriff Howard speaks with Erie County Legislators

December 13, 2018 - 5:03 pm
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BUFFALO (WBEN - Brendan Keany) - The Public Safety Committee, comprised of legislators from the Erie County Legislature, held a discussion this afternoon on the topic of body-cams.

The legislature invited County Sheriff Tim Howard to attend and to offer his thoughts on an issue that has been gaining a lot of steam in recent years, and on a more local level, following the release of the video involving deputies and Nicholas Belsito.

The discussion definitely got a little bit testy today as Howard and committee chair April Baskin went back and forth on a couple of issues surrounding the idea of law enforcement wearing the cameras, and their views certainly divided when it came to the kind of narrative that body-cams present.

Howard says that he doesn't want to spend tax dollars on cameras, especially since Big Fish Entertainment has offered their services that would follow Erie County deputies around in a reality show style.

"I have already demonstrated my willingness and my desire for transparency," said Howard. "[The Erie County Legislature] is the very same group that said 'no' to our willingness, and it wasn't necessarily our desire, but our willingness to bring in outside cameramen, independent cameramen to interview our deputies without any further controls by us."

However, Baskin is very concerned about the narrative that a show could create.

"I believe reality TV is sensationalized and if Big Fish Entertainment will be the people who hold the footage, capture the footage and edit the footage, that that's not a realistic look at what Erie County Deputies go through or how they engage with citizens on a day-to-day basis," said Baskin. "However, a body-cam is raw footage and whatever's captured on the body-cam is what happens...that's my opinion."

Howard did acknowledge the concerns, but he made the same argument against the footage produced by body-cams, saying that it only provides a narrow-scoped narrative. He used the Belsito footage as an example to further his point, saying he stands behind the deputies that were involved in the incident.

"I can say that this most recent mischaracterization in what was shown would in fact undermine the union support of this program, and it certainly causes me to question it as well," said Howard. "If video is released, and the circumstances aren't taken in total, only shows it from a certain angle is used."

The body-cameras were not brought forward in the county budget for 2019, so it will be a while before anything substantial can take place in that regard; however, Baskin says she's willing to wait.

"I have learned in this year of serving in government that things take time, and not everything is something that is going to turn around very quickly," said Baskin. "I'm not at all yet concerned as to the timeline in which the legislature of the sheriff's office will move on if we will in fact implement body-cams."

Hear more from the sheriff and other legislators below:

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