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Onondaga County approves body cameras for sheriff’s deputies, Democrats say process was rushed

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Legislator Chris Ryan and other Democratic legislators objected to the quick push for body camera funding.

The Onondaga County Legislature approved along party lines $600,000 to equip the Sheriff’s Office Police Division with body-worn cameras. Republicans voted for the funding while Democrats voted against it, saying the process was rushed, even though they fully support the cameras.

Last week, Sheriff Gene Conway held a press conference criticizing a news article saying he was refusing to use body cameras. He called on County Executive Ryan McMahon, who was planning to include money for the cameras in the budget later this year, to instead do it now, which the county executive did, by forwarding the item to the Legislature for Tuesday’s meeting.

Democrats were dismayed by the timing and rejected the measure saying it should go to committee so they can figure out how many cameras and how much funding is really needed. Republicans were disappointed by the lack of Democratic support, calling it political and saying that approving the funding gets the process started and they can always make changes later.

Democratic Legislator Vernon Williams Jr., who is Black and whose district covers parts of Syracuse’s south side with a predominantly Black community, says this is too important to push through money without knowing how the program is actually going to work.

“This is not about politics, this is about saving people’s lives, especially people that look like me and my community,” Williams said. “We are for body cameras. But the process has to be correct and right so we have a thorough and effective body camera program within Onondaga County. Not something that’s just rushed because the county executive and sheriff got in a spat.”

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
Republican Chairman David Knapp.

While addressing the Legislature, Republican Chairman David Knapp said the county worked on a police reform plan for six months, with one of the central recommendations being body cameras.

“This has been vetted, there’s no question,” Knapp said. “The comments from the other side, Legislator Williams, ‘this will save lives.’ It’s going to save lives. Why are we waiting to save lives? If we were slow rolling this we’d be getting criticized, why aren’t we pushing this through today? Either way, we’re going to get criticized on this.”

The funding goes towards cameras for more than 200 sheriff’s deputies and 67 vehicles. Legislators will further discuss in committee the sheriff’s proposal to equip civil and correction officers with body cameras.

Onondaga County Sheriff Body Cam Proposal by Kelly Nickerson 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.