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Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard on body cameras: "Show me the money"

Posted at 11:44 PM, Dec 14, 2018

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — "Show me the money. That’s what I’d say, but show me the money. But don’t tell me I’d have to give something else up," Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard said about the future of the department's use of a body camera program.

This coming from Sheriff Howard just hours after an intense session with the Erie County Legislature, answering questions about his department's recent trial with body cameras. The trial started in late 2016, according to the Sheriff, and wrapped up this past March. At its peak--13 deputies were wearing the technology.

When asked if body cameras are a good or bad thing, the Sheriff responded: "I think that the ability to record recurrences as the camera sees them is very good, but it should never--and I absolutely stress it--it should never be taken exclusively for what the camera says."

The body camera debate in the spotlight following the release of video from the arrest of UB student Nicholas Belsito at a Bills tailgate last December. Sheriff Howard declined to comment directly on the incident because of pending litigation.

"Well whether it's out (the body camera video from the Bills tailgate arrest) and who's video it is or inappropriately released that doesn't mean that I should discuss it," the Sheriff said.

It was during the questioning in front of the legislature that Howard said the body cam footage doesn't paint the full picture of what he believes actually happened. Today saying that he does indeed want to share the full version, but doesn't want to put the civil case in jeopardy.

"Even to the people that saw the video, that we're not talking about, how would you like to have been that officer? Watch the whole video and see what was going on around that officer. Would you want to be that officer? Give him a break, right, consider that they may in fact be right and someone else is the one that's wrong," Sheriff Howard said.

He says he "continues to trust the deputies"--who both are still actively working. He added--as the civil case progresses, the department will share their case with the public.

For body cameras to be implemented throughout the agency full time--it could cost taxpayers upwards of an estimated $1 million dollars a year.

"How much money do we want to spend in order to convince the public, some of whom won't be convinced no matter what, but to convince the public that our officers are all doing the right thing," he said.

The Sheriff said he wants to see money go towards a full-time SWAT team and a new helicopter. But if the opportunity presents itself-- "Hopefully the price will come down, the grants will be out there or your viewers will say we'll pay for it, here's the money," the Sheriff said.

Legislator April Baskin responded to the funding for the program saying:

As an independently elected official, Sheriff Howard submits a budget proposal for his department as part of the budget process. While the County Executive may make changes, the Legislature will work with elected officials and department heads throughout budget negotiations. Sheriff Howard did not present any options for body cameras as part of his proposed budget for 2019. Given the bi-partisan support for body cameras in the legislature, I am certain that had he attempted to expand such a program beyond the initial trial, we would have been willing to work with him. I believe the Sheriff’s Office should have the resources it needs to protect the citizens of Erie County. I also believe the Sheriff’s Office will benefit from greater public oversight and transparency. These goals are not mutually exclusive and I encourage Sheriff Howard to engage with the Legislature on the implementation of body cameras.
Legislator April Baskin

Legislators Joseph Lorigo, Lynne Dixon and Ed Rath released this joint statement also on the funding for the program:

Ultimately, we respect the Sheriff’s priorities when it comes to deciding how county funds are put to use. In the meantime, the body camera program along with all potential public safety improvements are something we are willing to keep an open mind to.
Legislators Lorigo, Dixon and Rath

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