Grandview Mayor candidate questions – Police body cam policy

Published October 13, 2019 by justicewg

police body camThe recent incident with the spiked baseball bat wielding attacker ended with a reported wound to the hand of one of Grandview Height’s police officers. The four officers who were at the scene showed great restraint in their reaction to a suspect who was using a deadly weapon.

Although there was a dash cam showing the outside of the home, there were no body cams on the officers inside the house. If the choice made by the officers were different, and a gun was used to defend the officers, there would have been no video record of the attack. The headlines in the local papers might have been “Grandview police shoot mentally ill man wanted for a traffic violation, in his own home, no cameras were worn.”

Many local police departments now use body cams. In 2015, then-Columbus Council president Andrew Ginther proposed the roll-out of body-worn cameras, The department completed its deployment in 2018, and 1,400 officers now wear the cameras.

Whitehall became first Franklin County suburb to equip officers with body cameras in 2018. Westerville and Dublin will have all officers equipped with cams by the end of 2019. Bexley, Grove City, and Reynoldsburg have all tested cameras recently.

(edit – Reynoldsburg was late to answer my question, they now have body cams for all police officers)

My questions for the candidates – should Grandview Heights police now be using body cameras? Are you in favor of at least a test program?

Steve Reynolds – answered in one day.

First, I would echo your comments that GHPD officers showed remarkable restraint and should be applauded for their very professional response. It is my understanding the injured officer sustained multiple bone fractures in his hand and had one of his knuckles impaled by a nail. He may require multiple corrective surgeries and faces months of recovery. I certainly wish him a speedy and complete recovery.

As to the appropriateness of body cams, the department had looked into purchasing them a year or two back, but decided to hold off until implementation in other Central Ohio departments could be observed. While it may sound like a simple program to put in place, there are numerous details and considerations which come into play. The Chief could explain these with a higher level of expertise than I can, but I’ll provide a summary based upon my discussions with him and other law enforcement officers.

In addition to the initial cost of equipment, a substantial amount of expense and labor can be incurred in administering to such a program. Legal considerations such as HIPAA (i.e., personal privacy rights) require extremely careful screening and cataloging of body-cam video. This differs from dash-cam video due, in part, to the likelihood of entering someone’s home as opposed to what is readily observable to the public such as in a traffic stop on the street.

For a small department, taking up officers’ time with proper training and appropriate day-to-day operation can be a considerable allocation of resources. Some larger departments are able to employ civilians to handle some aspects of the program, but that would be especially challenging for a department our size. Long-term, secure storage of the body-cam video is also substantially more voluminous than for dash-cam video in that body cams are active for a much longer portion of an officer’s shift than dash cams.

Finally — after all that background information — I can answer your specific questions. Should the department be using body cams “now”? No, I do not believe that we have a comfort level yet with how such a program should be implemented in our own department. As I alluded to above, it isn’t as simple as just purchasing the cameras and putting them out on the street. That being said, I believe we will (and should) have them in place with GHPD within the next few years after Grandview is better able to study the experiences of local departments, both from a legal and operational perspective. Once the Chief and I are comfortable that we have reached such a point, it would then be appropriate to begin rolling out a test program. – Steve Reynolds

Greta Kearns answered after three days.

I too am grateful for the professionalism of our police officers and the leadership of our Chief of Police in keeping our community safe.

You asked whether body cameras should be used or tested in Grandview Heights Police Department. In my opinion, more information and assessment is needed before taking this step. Body camera programs require operational changes, both in the field and in the office. We are learning from other jurisdictions as they find data storage and staffing solutions to handle the high volume of public records generated by body camera video, while also meeting all legal obligations to protect privacy (minors, domestic violence victims, and personal health information, for example). Any new program needs to fit the scale of our operations and be planned within the context of budget priorities. As Mayor, I would work with my Chief of Police and the community to assess the evolving legal, operational, and technological landscape regarding body cameras and to determine if and when a program is the right step for Grandview. – Greta Kearns

Body cams are standard police gear

If you were like me, you wondered why the police video from the spiked bat incident that was shown on the local news only showed some blurry video taken from a police dash cam. Although Grandview likes to think we are “like Mayberry RFD”, we don’t pay our police department like a small town, and have up to date cars.

Whitehall is beating us in the use of modern police equipment?

The studies are out, the research done. Body cams are liked by competent cops, because they back up the word of the police officer who knows his job. The only group of police that are dragging their feet on body cams are the “we hate new tech devices” late adopters – which is where I think we are at with the present Police Chief.

Reynolds seemed to get it – the cameras are inevitable, the Grandview Police will either use them soon or be required to use them. But he shouldn’t have added “if the chief is comfortable”, we need a Mayor that is the boss, and does what is needed to keep the police department up to date, even if the Chief is uncomfortable.

Kearns was way too wishy-washy on body cams, her “if and when we use them” holds out the option of saying no to cams. That just isn’t an option that makes any sense. If she can’t tell the Chief what his job requires, she doesn’t need to be in the Mayor’s office.

Previously – Candidates set positions on the future of the Mayor

More Previously – Candidates for Mayor set positions on scooters.

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Questions for the Grandview Mayoral candidates – the future of the Mayor

Published October 8, 2019 by justicewg
by rob nguyen

by rob nguyen

We can learn some things about the candidates for Mayor by asking them what they intend to do once in office, and what they would like to see happen to the Mayor in the future.

Full Time Mayor

In my post about the salary of the Mayor in Grandview Heights, I gave a short discussion of the possibility for change in the way the Mayor’s office could work in the future.

Right now, the Mayor is considered a part time job. The amount of time an office holder works is up to the individual who is the Mayor, but there are no fixed duties that require full time work.

I asked the candidates if Mayor should become a full time job, with an increase in pay that reflects the hours and duties of a full time Mayor?

I asked if that full time Mayor would be taking over some or all of the tasks of Pat Bowman?

Switch to a professional city manager appointed by city council?

Other cities in Franklin Co. (Hilliard in 2018) have been switching to a professional city manager instead of a Mayor. The idea is that unlike a Mayor who might come into the position from any background, a professional city manager would be trained (at least a Master of Public Administration degree) and experienced enough to quickly fit into the job. The manager would be updated with the educational programs specifically aimed at city managers, and be focused on doing the job the city council needed to have done, without worrying about running for office every four years.

I asked – should Grandview consider switching to a professional city manager appointed by council?

Steve Reynolds answered after two days.

Full Time Mayor
Over the past two decades, the job description for Grandview’s mayor has changed considerably. The duties and responsibilities of the position require more day-to-day attention to details and a much broader knowledge base than in years past.  With that perspective in mind, it is more than appropriate to reevaluate the community’s expectations for the role of mayor. I will examine the feasibility of folding the position of Director of Administration back into the mayor’s duties. Such a consolidation would flatten the management structure, increase operating efficiency, and result in cost savings. Regardless of this potential change, we need someone who is willing and able to make an “all-in” commitment, which is exactly what I intend to do as mayor.

Administrator instead of Mayor
The Charter Review Commission has explored such possibilities numerous times, including the most-recent review last year.  I agree with their findings (as approved by our voters) that such changes are not appropriate at the present time.  For me, the independence of Mayor and Council is a good thing.  It provides at least the opportunity for checks and balances in our local government. – Steve Reynolds

Greta Kearns answered after four days.

Full Time Mayor
For me, serving Grandview Heights is public service, not a profession. Mayor DeGraw also treated the role this way and you agree that he has served our community well. I have served on Council since 2014 and do not expect to get paid commensurate with the hours that I put into the job. I doubt any city manager would be motivated to spend the time I have spent since last year going door to door as a candidate, listening to the concerns of residents. A Mayor is an independently elected chief executive and, therefore, directly accountable to residents. Unlike a city manager appointed by Council, a mayor must stand up for her record every 4 years.
You mention “gray hairs” and Mayor DeGraw’s experience, something neither candidate possesses. But Mayor DeGraw did not possess all his experience and wisdom on his first day of the job in 2004. He, like I, brought a wealth of life experience and professional capabilities from non-government work and as a parent. I disagree that learning on the job is a negative characteristic of an elected executive that can be somehow avoided by hiring a professional trained in public administration; Mayor DeGraw, in fact, became a better mayor by learning on the job. He gained experience facing the challenges and working with Council and residents to solve problems.

Administrator instead of Mayor
A weak mayor/city manager form of government would require a charter change. Last year, our Charter Review Commission, a group of nine appointed electors, evaluated a potential change and determined, as had prior Charter Review Commissions, that our current strong mayor form of government was continuing to meet our needs. Thus, the version of the charter they recommended and that was affirmed at the ballot in November kept our current form of government intact. I concur with this decision. – Greta Kearns

Notes on the answers

Reynolds was in favor of a full time Mayor. He said he was “all-in”. Kearns, although she seemed to be committed to doing the work, did not say she was going to be a full time Mayor, or that she would support changing the office to full time.

It was a simple question, and I think the city deserves a simple answer, not a lawyer’s side-step of the issue.

Neither wanted a city manager type head of the administration. Maybe I’m biased because I took half of the coursework for a masters degree in Public Administration (long story), but I think a City Administrator would be the better way for a small city to fill the head of the administration office.

We might get lucky, and always have a person who is both a politician who is good at running for office, and running a city. If we get unlucky, it can be a terrible fate for a city. Do we need to look far for an example of someone who can get elected, but has no clue how to run the office they were supposed to fill?

Mayoral candidate story in the TVN (where everyone “mulls” the answers to questions).

Previously – Candidates for Mayor set positions on scooters.

City video moves from YT to Internet Archive

Published October 1, 2019 by justicewg

IA GH searchI wrote about the closure of the city YouTube channel in a July post, the city was attempting to save the channel from a ban because of TOS violation. The appeal process has failed. YT is famous for closing channels with little explanation, and no recourse. It doesn’t matter that the content of the channel was official videos from city council meetings, there was something on those videos that caused the people at YT to decree a permanent ban on the channel.

I emailed Chief Shaner (who does the IT work for the city, along with running the fire department). He found a better place to host the city videos.

“I corresponded with Google Government and their final response was, “the site will not be re-enabled”. If we establish another YouTube channel, it can be deleted just like that one was so we will not be doing that as long as I am here. Everything we have is now on Archive.org. It seems to be a good use of taxpayer money at this point.

I think the agenda center on the website reflects the changes. If you go to the website, you can navigate to the appropriate meeting. You should not have to search for it.” – Chief Shaner

http://www.grandviewheights.org/AgendaCenter/City-Council-2

The location of the city council videos is not so intuitive, you normally don’t expect to find videos of past meetings on a page that is titled “Agendas”. The city is using a pre-packaged CMS that doesn’t give them a lot of flexibility, so that might be the best that can be done.

Click on the little TV set icons to the right of each meeting, this will take you to the video on Archive.org.

The Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. You can think of it like a library for the internet, although it isn’t a library like the one we have on First Ave. It is funded through donations, grants, and by providing web archiving and book digitization services for partners.

You can also find videos from the Grandview city council by doing a search for the term “Grandview Heights” in the main search bar of the IA. A warning about using the IA, the website is not a fast as YouTube, it can bog down at times (it is one of the most used sites on the internet).

Why the city YouTube channel was closed

The management of YouTube is notorious for impenetrable decision making processes and rule enforcement. Even if we had all of the documentation that was provided to the city, it may have told us nothing except “rules were broken- see the rules on this page”. That page would then contain a list of possible infractions, with no explanation of who complained, or what they didn’t like.

We don’t know what closed the channel. We can look at the issues that were being discussed in city council meetings just before the closure, and the one that stands out is the complaints that residents were making about the open drug use and disruptions that occurred around the short term rental properties. The owners could have worked together to accuse the city of TOS violations, just because the words “drugs” were mentioned (a trip wire that has closed many YT channels).

The city did the right thing in moving away from YouTube, we don’t want our video recordings of council meetings censored or limited in any way. I’m hoping the city can work out a way to host the videos on their own servers, and end all outside party enforcement of content rules in city videos.

The schools use YouTube

The Grandview schools have been posting football games and other sports on a YT channel for the last two years. For some reason, despite the pitfalls of YT that the board knew and had objected to, they decided to post the new videos of board meetings on the same YT channel. The public comment section of the video posts has not been turned off. The channel is vulnerable to being closed for TOS violations.

The school has a video section on their own website, and can host their own videos. Why would they choose YouTube?

Rebekah Hatzifotinos joins city council

Published September 25, 2019 by justicewg

HatzThe Grandview city council swore in Rebekah Hatzifotinos September 16, to finish the term of Steve Gladman, who resigned.

Hatzifotinos and Ryan Edwards will be on the ballot this Nov. with incumbent Emily Keeler. Although there was another candidate for the seat Gladman vacated, Hatzifotinos was the logical replacement, since she will step into the seat after an uncontested race this November.

There is a disconcerting habit for political races in Grandview Heights to become uncontested coronations. Most of the current council members took office without facing a challenger, the same for the school board. The two school board candidates who will run for the open seats this Nov. will also have no competition. I’m working on an article on why this happens so often in our city. Democracy is supposed to feature an election that pits candidates who are required to meet with the citizens and state their ideas for the future of the office. The qualifications of the candidates are supposed to be scrutinized (although on a national level that often only means a check for membership in the D or R group). If “it doesn’t matter who you vote for” is the result of the political process in Grandview, something is wrong.

Hatzifotinos is a lawyer/baker

Ms Hatzifotinos is listed on the city blog as “earned a juris doctorate from Capital University in May 2004 and has practiced law for more than 12 years. Her community involvement includes serving as chair of the 2017-2018 Grandview Heights Charter Review Commission; pro bono work for the Children’s Hunger Alliance; and her current service as president of the Edison Intermediate & Larson Middle School PTO.”

Basic biscuitsMs Hatzifotinos is also the owner and chief baker for “Basic Biscuits, Kindness & Coffee”. She is planning to open a retail store on Goodale sometime next year. If you are wondering how a bakery that only sells biscuits and coffee can make any money, maybe this photo of her prices that she currently charges will tell you what she thinks will be sustainable.

How to pronounce her name

I asked her what her agenda on the council would be, and how to pronounce her surname.

“I do not have any particular agenda as of this moment, although I am very interested in seeing through to completion the new Municipal/Fire/Police building as I participated in the Spaces & Places committee. Generally speaking, I am interested in Grandview’s growth, but balancing that with maintaining its established neighborhood character.

My last name actually IS phonetic, that’s the wonder of the Greek language- but I can break it down a little further for you. Hahtzee-foeteen-ohs.”

I’m still unsure of the pronunciation. Is it “Hat-zee-foeteen-ohs”, or “Hadzee-foeteen-ohs”, with flap T?

School Board video – reviewing August, 2019 meeting (FIRST robotic ending mentors)

Published September 22, 2019 by justicewg

Aug board 1The Grandview Heights school board has started making video recordings of their monthly main meetings (there are still special meetings that are not recorded, with either video or audio). Although I personally have been pressuring the board to be more open with the public and share recordings of the meetings, the responsibility for taking the issue to the board and pressing for votes was completed by board member Molly Wassmuth.

Wassmuth was the member who asked the administration and board president for their view on the possibility of making video recordings back in 2018, and the result was a shotgun blast of illogical and petty reasons to object from Culp and Truett. Read the post from January 2019 for the full story, but the short version – they had objections to the possibility of ADA, confidentiality, copyright, and privacy issues for those attending board meetings.

Normally this list of objections would have been the end of any attempt to continue with the proposal from a board member, opposition from the superintendent is sure death for normal board suggestions. I don’t know how Ms Wassmuth was able to press the other board members into voting in favor of the video recording, but I suspect it might be the reasons I listed at the end of my post on video recording the board. The board knew it was inevitable that video would be required by the state at some point, so doing it by themselves allowed them to set their own policy on what would be on camera, and how they could edit the final video.

Another possible reason for the passage of the video resolution – in May 2019, the board failed to allow a vote of support for Pride month in a resolution that was brought up by Wassmuth. The excruciating silence from the board as a second was requested, a failure that shamed the community, might have moved the board to have some sympathy for Wassmuth, and allow her video resolution to pass.

Video of the August meeting – The Board doesn’t answer questions from the public.
At 8:25 of the video, Truett gives the rules for the public comment portion of the meeting. He says the board policy is “the board will not answer questions or engage in discussion at this time”.

I knew the board was refusing to answer questions from some members of the public because of my own experience, I was denied an answer to a question I asked at the October 2014 meeting. As I recorded in a post at that time, this was a new policy from the board, in the past I, and many other community members, had gone before the board and had questions answered at many meetings.

“We don’t answer questions” was just an ad hoc decision from then president Douglass. At some point, it became policy, and president Truett states at the beginning of each public comment section of the monthly meetings “we will not answer questions”. Strangely, this policy is not printed in the sheet of rules the board has created for the public comment section. The board limits comments to five minutes, they require names and addresses, they reserve the right to end any comments from parents, and order them to leave the room (this “we can throw parents out of meetings” is a made up rule that is not supported by Ohio open meeting rules. The board can tell parents to shut up, but removing them from meetings is a decision that is reserved for police officers). But “the board doesn’t answer questions” is not a written policy, it is just the policy Truett has made for his meetings.

As I wrote in my post back in 2014, the Grandview school board used to have a small meeting, with a few parents attending, and they had the time to answer questions – that was part of what made the small community of GH different from the large impersonal cities that surrounds it. That attention to the parents, and their questions, is now gone from board meetings. That is a policy decision by the current board, and could be changed if parents demand it from the board.

FIRST Robotics mentors given the boot

At 9:12 in the August meeting, Jenny Johnson addressed the board about the FIRST robotic team and the Lego league. The FIRST Robotics Competition is an international organization that has been a high point in the educational program at Grandview for more than 23 years. This was a team with a dedicated group of supporters, headed by a couple of mentors who had deep experience in the skills needed for the creation of robots. Many other parents were involved, and the reputation of Granview’s team was always high in the competition.

According to Ms Johnson, the two mentors for the team were recently told they were no longer needed, and that teachers would now be running the team. These teachers had little experience, one of them was even unsure that he had been selected to take over the team.

The former mentors made the needs of the robotics team a priority during the 6-7 weeks of the build time, spending up to 80 hours per week mentoring the team members. Their experience was vital in leading the kids into many high honors in the competition. With an unannounced decision, the board and school administration ended all of that. The board left it up to the mentors to explain to the kids why they would be ending their time with the team.

The replacement teachers will be working full time at their normal positions in the school during the busy build time for the competition. Even with three teachers, the loss of experience and dedication to the event has been devastating for the kids who were looking forward to this year’s team event. According to Johnson, up to half of the team members have pledged to end their involvement in the team. There was no discussion with mentors about the change prior to the boot out the door. There was no discussion with team members. This was just a decision handed down from above – if you don’t like it, too bad.

The teachers who are taking over the team had no experience with the robotics events – they never attended practice sessions, never went to competitions. There was another parent who spoke about the decision who thought the motivation for the change was vendetta from the teachers against the mentors, and the $3500 extra each teacher would be paid was a main motivator for the change.

A lack of respect from the board will kill the robotics team

Each of the parents and students who took time to explain the loss to the school caused by this decision, stressed that it was the lack of information and lack of input from team members before the decision that killed the trust the parents and students had with the board. If half the robotics team is gone, the associated Lego league will die too. The grants of up to $25,000 needed to fund the team will end. The students may chose to move the team outside the school, and end the program in Grandview schools.

At the end of the comment period, the board refused to answer any questions. The board and the administration has made no public explanation for how the change in the robotics team came about. The questions from those angry parents and students are not worth addressing, according to this board.

(edit) Read the comments below, some important new info was posted about the issue.

Self Surveillance

Published September 6, 2019 by justicewg

survelance camThe Grandview Heights Police have created a voluntary program to register private security surveillance cameras owned by homeowners in Grandview. In an announcement in the city blog, the police have asked residents to go to the city website and enter the location and contact information for homeowners with outside cameras.

I am in favor of cameras outside your front door. Read my personal experience later in this post. I want to know what is happening on my property – but I’m not so happy with the new programs that police are using to register and coordinate with companies that provide home surveillance. Grandview is not part of the Ring program(yet?), but they are asking residents to register their own cameras.

Details on the video camera registration program

There are obvious questions about how this program would work, I sent some questions to officer Cohill with the Grandview Heights Police Department.

Who will own video footage that is sent to the police department? If there was an important video clip that might go viral, would the police be selling the video?

“The police doesn’t sell videos and are bound by the Ohio Public Records Act.”

The police will not sell your video, but the Public records act means that it would become open to Ohio Sunshine laws. A news organization (or anybody) can request the video, and then use it for any purpose they want. There are many “true crime” TV shows, your right to ask for income from the video is lost after the police take possession of it. Any income you might generate from selling the video to anyone will be lost. You will lose any right to restrict the use of your video.

What other agencies might the police share your video with?

“The video would only be shared with other agencies, as required by law.”

Any of the Federal agencies – FBI, DEA, etc – could request the use of your video. You will have no rights to stop the further sharing of your video between government agencies, forever.

Does a person who registers their video camera have the right to deny the use of the video recording in their possession?

“The Grandview Heights Police wouldn’t force any citizen to provide us with a copy of video, without a legal warrant. Being a part of the program doesn’t change the answer.”

The police can’t force you to provide video surveillance, however the prosecutor can ask the courts for a warrant. If you are registered as a video camera owner, that makes it much easier to obtain the warrant (because you have told the police that your camera exists). It doesn’t really matter that much – if you have an external camera, and the police can see the camera, they can ask for a warrant for the recording from the camera.

What level of crimes will police determine justifies the use of the video surveillance that is being offered in this program? Will it be used to track dog walkers who don’t clean up after their pets? Scooter users who break the law by driving on the sidewalk?

“The police will enforce the laws within its jurisdiction as needed. If it is necessary for us to ask for the video, to help us enforce the laws, then we will do so. “ – Officer Cohill

As you can read in the story I recount later in the post, I have real problems with losing the option of determining the kind of crime my video recording will be used by the police to investigate and conduct enforcement. I doubt that they have the time to be using the video against minor crimes – but I have no way to know what the video is being used for.

My surveillance camera story Read the rest of this entry →

Jennifer Cooke murder spurs $20K reward – after 6 years

Published September 5, 2019 by justicewg

Jennifer CookeThe unsolved homicide of Jennifer Cooke in 2013 was a shock to the Grandview Heights community, leading to a massive investigation that pointed to some “person of interest”, but never lead to an arrest.

Grandview police have just announced a $20K reward for information that will close the case.

Read the original story that was posted on this blog, and the 2014 story that really was a non story (with a side discussion on the accuracy of polygraph machines).

We can hope that the offer of the reward at this late date is an indication that some new information has popped up that has helped the police. Unfortunately, all I read is that the police are asking for more memories from people who might have been in the area of the murder six years ago.

They are asking anyone that may have been in the area of Woodhill Drive or Palmer Drive on August 8 and 9, 2013 to contact police. Police said they are heavily focused on the early morning hours of August 9, 2013 between midnight and 8 a.m.

I can’t understand how asking for memories from 2013 are going to lead to anything substantial. Maybe this reward is a way for the police to say “we are still investigating”. At this late date, the reward doesn’t inspire confidence that any headway in the investigation has occurred.