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Onondaga County speeds up process to fund body cameras for sheriff’s deputies

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Onondaga County Sheriff Gene Conway.

Onondaga County is beginning the process to equip the sheriff’s patrol deputies with body cameras. The announcement came after an article published by Syracuse.com last week, had a headline saying Sheriff Gene Conway was refusing to use body cameras.

At a press conference on Friday, Conway called the article inaccurate, inciteful, and misleading.

“The very first statement, and repeated throughout the interview, I support the concept of body cameras,” Conway said.

The article says Conway said that cameras are expensive and he wants funding for bulletproof vests, stun guns, patrol cars and to fill empty positions. But Conway said the word he used wasn’t wants but needs.

“If there’s going to be money for body cameras and I turn around and it’s going to be taken out from another line in my budget, that is a concern for me,” Conway said.

In 2017, the Sheriff’s Office requested money for a pilot body camera program that never got funded. County Executive Ryan McMahon was the chairman of the Legislature at the time. He had suggested that the Sheriff’s Office use funds from a drug seizures account for the program. That didn’t happen either, and there was no request after that by the sheriff for body cameras.

McMahon has said that he would include money for the program in the 2022 budget. Conway said instead of waiting for what might take another year, why not fund it right now?

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media (file photo)
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon with Legislature Chairman David Knapp.

Following the county’s police reform and reinvention plan, McMahon had sent a letter to Conway in February saying body cameras on all patrol deputies is a priority, and he asked Conway to come up with a plan to implement the program. McMahon said he never got a response from Conway until Friday’s press conference. 

“You know what they say, we strike while the iron is hot,” McMahon said.

After hearing Conway supports the cameras, McMahon directed his purchasing department to start the procurement process and come up with the costs of the program. It will then go to the county Legislature for approval, which McMahon hopes to see on next month’s agenda, so the program can begin this year.

McMahon was asked why it took so long to get to this point, and if the sheriff should have requested the cameras again, sooner. 

“Here nor there, it’s appropriate we have the program now,” McMahon said. “The timing, it’s a necessity now, with what’s happened in the country.”

Onondaga County's Justice Reform Initiative by WRVO News on Scribd

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.