Funding for the Bowling Green Police Department and elementary school crossing guards is set to see a significant boost this year. A recently passed ordinance approved $11,000 toward part-time and temporary employees and $3,000 toward the Law Enforcement Trust fund.
The $11,000 for crossing guards was approved to account for an absence in funding in the 2021 budget. According to Lieutenant Dan Mancuso, crossing guards were unintentionally left out of the relief budget when schools shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As you know, last year when COVID hit, the schools weren’t in session,” Mancuso said. “So, we did not know that they were going to come back into session where they were having in-person classes. So the city had to reopen the budget and come up with money to pay for crossing guards to help the elementary school kids get to class.”
According to Assistant Municipal Administrator Joseph Fawcett, money was not allocated for this in the original 2021 budget because “at that point we were uncertain when the schools would go back in session and what level of support they would need in the form of crossing guards.”
Crossing guards, according to City Finance Director Brian Bushong, are part-time employees usually comprised of retirees, among others. With schools continuing to reopen, money was put into the budget to make sure crossing guards could get paid.
As to when the funds will make its way to the schools, that process is usually saved until after the expenses come to pass. Bushong said the city finance department knows the expenses for things like crossing guards once a year.
“That’s not new money,” he said. “That’s just money that’s in the general fund that’s now part of the budget.”
As early as this fall, crossing guards will be back at crosswalks to help elementary school kids going to and from school. According to City Councilman Greg Robinette, the city hires and pays crossing guards before the school reimburses them half of the allocated funds.
“We bill the schools once a year for half-day expenses, so it’s a shared expense between the city schools and the city,” Bushong said.
The $3,000 set aside for the Law Enforcement Trust Fund will make it easier to redistribute money forfeited to the police department from the seizure of a criminal case.
According to Bushong, part of the cost is split with Wood County prosecutors. Robinette said the number is an estimate representative of the share that is entitled to the Wood county prosecutor by law.
“We have an agreement that fifteen percent of these forfeitures funds go to the county prosecutor,” Robinette said. “So, periodically, funds are transferred back to the county.”
Forfeitures can include confiscated property and drug fines. According to Section 2953.43 of the Ohio Revised code, the funds in the trust are partially used to account for such under Section 2953.43 of the Ohio Revised Code.
“There was a recovery, so we knew there was going to be a need to split some of that,” Bushong said. “We had budgeted for that recovery and so we were just asking for the piece of those recovery dollars that we need to send to the Wood County prosecutor’s office.”
Mancuso said unused money will be rolled over to the next year if there aren’t any seizures. The police department will receive an estimate of money that could need to be reimbursed to the Wood County Prosecutor's Office.
In addition to the trust fund, the Bowling Green Police department will be receiving a significant technology upgrade. The BGPD’s cruiser fleet is also set to see an upgrade with the inclusion of four hybrid vehicles to replace old cruisers. Mancuso said the goal of this initiative is to save money and gas for the city.
The big issue on the docket, however, is body cams for officers. Robinette said the money in the trust is also partially used to offset costs of such items as body cameras, the storage and software required to store data from the cams, radios and dash cams. To further fund this initiative, the BGPD has applied for a grant to partially fund the body cams, although the storage and software are said to be the most expensive part of the initiative.
“We’ll have new in-car video recording systems, and with those new systems comes body-worn cameras that officers will have,” Mancuso said. “So, that will provide more ability to gather evidence and determine how our officers are performing.”
According to an article by Candice Norwood for PBS NewsHour, “a renewed push from both advocates and lawmakers'' to require police officers to wear body cameras came alongside calls for police reform. In 2020, a bill was introduced by House Democrats to require federal law enforcement to wear body cameras “and provide funding and incentives for municipal law enforcement to do the same.”
“For nearly two decades, law enforcement agencies have explored and implemented the use of body cameras as a tool to help hold officers accountable and make departments more transparent – a way to help rebuild trust with their communities and reduce citizen complaints,” Norwood wrote. “Video footage can also enable departments to collect evidence during investigations or better defend their actions during a particular encounter.”
While the practice of equipping police officers with cameras is hardly new, Norwood reported a catalyst for this recent wave was a string of “highly publicized police killings of Black people,” which prompted a debate about police violence and racial profiling across the country. It was not explicitly said by any part this was the reason for the investment in body cams and upgraded technology, but it was stated that this initiative was particularly important to city officials.
“I know it was a priority of the city administration and the mayor and the (police) chief as well, so we’re trying to get this done as quickly as we can,” Bushong said.
According to Chief Hetrick, the body cams and other upgrades to the force are scheduled to be implemented in June of this year.